Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Outlines and Re-writes and Edits, Oh My!

I haven’t been using outlines when I write lately. One of my WIP manuscripts is completely un-outlined. If I dig around in my files, I probably have an old plot treatment of some sort that I haven’t looked at in years. But no working outline. Each chapter is occurring as I sit down and write. Kind of organic, really.

My other WIP manuscript has a sort-of outline attached to the end of the manuscript. Literally…a few blank lines after the last sentence, you would find a bullet list of the events in the plot. I ended up jotting down the high-level plot points on this one because I found myself getting swept up in the fantasy of this story. There are magic, dragons, and journeys through dark forests in this book and I’d MUCH rather write all that description than stick to the action. So – to keep myself honest, I figured having a cheat sheet of the actual EVENTS that needed to take place wouldn’t hurt. I can definitely say it is handy for keeping me on the right track and keeping my action moving along the plot curve. This way, I hope I won’t forget any crisis points or events that will help my characters change the way I need them to as their story unfolds.

But…even though I do refer to those last pages of my manuscript when I sit down to work, and even though I just told you it is helpful…there is something so planned about it. Something the opposite of organic. Something sort of…well….limiting.

I will say that some hybrid form of outlining (not the roman numeral type from school, but still…) was absolutely necessary when I wrote a novel with a friend.  Keeping a full story straight as you move it from your head to your laptop or paper is hard enough, let alone when that story is growing and emerging from two writers simultaneously. It was sort of a magic trick – writing with a partner. And I like to think of our ever-shifting outlines and notes and conversations about what coulda/shoulda/oughta happen next or last or sometime in the book were organic in their own right. But we did write those “coulda/shouldas” down so we were both on the same page (pun definitely intended).

I think I like organic, but might need outlines and notes.

Here’s the other thing I should confess – the organically growing manuscript? It’s been organically growing for years. Really. Years. The outlined one with dragons? Moving much faster.

So maybe the outlines are not only a good tool for keeping the details straight – but offer some sort of impetus, too. An urge. A nudge. If something can be outlined, it can be written, right?

What about you? Do you use outlines? Do you take notes, write up other “tools” like character sketches or plot diagrams when you write?

1 comment:

  1. I'm supporting my nephew as he writes the sequel to his first book. As I mentioned, he's autistic, which has a bearing on how his stories form. I tend to record his thoughts during our tutoring sessions, then print them out (use the iPad app Sound Note for this). He will also text me ideas now and then. One day he sent me about 20 texts of spells and similes to use in The Magic Quest.

    He loves to create characters, their descriptions, and sometimes little stories about them. Turning all that into a book with a plot is the challenge. He kind of moves from the characters to events and then we go back and figure out the 'rest of the story.'