Thursday, June 10, 2010

outlining: order or chaos?

sorry for the blog silence. all time at the laptop this week has been spent tinkering with the page design - not that you can tell, but hey, when you don't know what you're doing with html code, even something as simple as putting a border around the whole damn thing takes hours.

so today i want to talk about outlining. it seems in writing circles, there are two camps: outliners (those of us who plan ahead) and pantsers (those who fly by the seat of their pants and just let the story unfold).

not being a pantser myself, i can only assume they all start in much the same way - with a blank page and an idea in mind.

but i suspect we outliners divide into many sub-categories, from supremely organized to pure chaos. with my hyper organization and tendency toward list-making, one might guess that i'm a rigid outliner with centered, underlined chapter headings followed by neatly ordered bullets dictating moment-by-moment what will happen in a scene when i arrive at it.

but, in fact, my outlines are a mess - big red blobs of text broken up by bits of dialog.

i outline right inside my manuscript too, so i can easily scroll down and see where i'm supposed to be or jump ahead and throw a note into a later scene. once a scene is written into the manuscript, it is deleted from the outline. as the manuscript gets longer, the outline gets shorter, until i reach the end, and the outline disappears altogether.
sadly, this means i do not have any examples saved of the chaos that is my outlining process. instead, i've created a mock-up here:

scene at park. walker shows up late. ben already there. pile of weapons. walker goggles. ben shows off item by item (think of crazy weapon items). ben says no guns. walker: "what is this, west side story?" - "well, we are gonna rumble." - d,t,l all arrive. ???--insert scene: eat first? something to relax??? - if leave park, get back to park and end chap just as bullies start to arrive.

only picture that little paragraph as ten times longer with no breaks or spaces. it's all very stream-of-consciousness. i resist the urge to write entire upcoming scenes because i've found in the past when i get to those scenes, even if they no longer work for the story, i try to force them into the manuscript.

at the end of my big messy outline, i'll add bits off dialog that i want my characters to say but can't yet see where they fit into the story. if they don't make it into the book, they go in a special file on my laptop called "orphans" - where i keep lines i've never used but want to someday.

so that's my outlining process. it's messy, but it works for me.

i showed you mine; now you show me yours. how do you outline? i'm curious to see how many different methods there are.


Meredith said...

For my first WiP, I was a pantser, but now I've totally converted. I scribble in my journal first, but then I set up a word document and try to create a somewhat proper outline. I even use Roman numerals. But I always keep in mind that while I write, the outline will change--new plot twists will be added, events will be switched around, etc. I have to leave some room for creativity :)

Great post! It's always interesting to see what works for different writers.

McD said...

Sorry I cannot indicate an outline style as I am a pure panster. I think I would put writing off like housecleaning or lawn mowing if I did that. All of the joy of writing for me is to let my story unfold before me. My characters take on a life of their own and I love it when they surprise me.

That being said... I confess it is a S L O W way to write. I frequently write myself into a box and scrap 20 chapters or more.

Nomes said...

LOL @ your html confession. I have no idea and usually end up having to undo all my changes, yet for some reason, i keep attempting to tweak things.

I'm a pantser. But I wish I were an outliner. It just seems like a better way to be. Every time I've attempted to outline, I end up not get into the actual writing of the book.

I love reading what works for other people. Your mock-up is pretty cute :)