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Old 10-07-2012, 12:04 AM   #1
djulian
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Outlines?

So, classic question, and I'm curious where folks stand here at MR:

Does outlining a work of fiction help or hurt that fiction?

Hemingway, I'm told, said that "If you outline your books, you’ll know where you’re going and so will your reader." Michael Connelly (for whom I have a lot of respect) said that this quote convinced him to forgo outlining. He just has an ending in mind, and that can change as he writes. Ed McBain (for whom I also have a lot of respect) also refused to outline. He said that would reduce his job to "typing."

On the other hand, many writers say that outlining is essential, and that simply hammering out drafts is a good way to spend 2-5 years writing a novel that an outline would bring to completion in about a year.

My process has been to write a chapter, and then to rewrite that chapter until it makes sense. I discover a lot from draft to draft and I write significantly fewer drafts of each chapter the further into the manuscript that I get. So, the first chapter may have fifteen drafts, the second might have only five, and then maybe two or three for many of the remaining chapters. But hammering out the beginning like this enables me to run for a while. And then I have to work on the end for a while as well.

Any thoughts? Any thoughts from experience with either approach?
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Old 10-07-2012, 12:31 AM   #2
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I never use them, but some here always use them. Each writer should try it both ways and see where they are best.

Steven King never outlines, nor do many other very successful authors.

There is no "right way" in this.
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Old 10-07-2012, 02:25 AM   #3
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Outlining doesn't hurt or help fiction. What can hurt is trying to write your stuff using someone else's approach. I was just reading some pompous article of an author explaining how one should write, because hey, it worked for him, so it must be the only way. It's not the first piece I've read from that angle.

I would agree with vydor, but I'd say it in a different way. There is a right way, it just isn't the same for everyone. Until someone lives your life in your head and weaves a worthwhile story from that, they aren't qualified to tell you how it's done.

For my part, in a lot of my longer works I often use some initial spiral outlines to help connect people and concepts (something that looks a lot like mind mapping, I dunno, maybe it is mind mapping), and I often put together lots of external character background that never gets anywhere near the text but I never use linear, formal outlines. I am finding my process by addressing the challenges that come up as I'm writing. When I do borrow technique from someone else, I borrow as little as possible to fill a known hole and see if it fits. I try to avoid fixing things that ain't broke.
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Old 10-07-2012, 07:25 AM   #4
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Remember an outline is what you make it.

I look at it like a bunch of boxes and circles and there are things here and ideas there that you want to reach. You can draw lines from one to another or not.

You don't have to start with a flow chart or a project managers outline. You start with a few ideas and then as you go alon(g) you write down some salient facts and ideas in a place you can find them later, and then you start sorting or collecting these things.
If you try not to put down anything except the text of your book in the published sequence, you will slow yourself down because you will have to go over and over those ideas in your head or you will have to (and I use an old phrase here) do a lot of erasing and rewriting. Later or course it was whiteout. Now of course it is digital.

To summarize, as you write put down what you want to do, and then write some more and repeat. You will be writing and outlining all along at the same time. There is no need to worry too much about what comes first. You will realize after a while what you need and when you need it.

Last edited by frahse; 10-08-2012 at 12:36 AM.
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Old 10-07-2012, 09:32 PM   #5
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@Vydor: Glad to know that about King--I respect him too (as w/ Connelly, McBain, and Hemingway). I suppose that's another indication that I don't need to feel too badly about not outlining.
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Old 10-07-2012, 10:08 PM   #6
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@Vydor: Glad to know that about King--I respect him too (as w/ Connelly, McBain, and Hemingway). I suppose that's another indication that I don't need to feel too badly about not outlining.
Get his book, "On Writing" - Excellent book about our craft - that is if you can ignore/get passed/accept his gratuitous use of foul language that is.
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Old 10-08-2012, 04:12 AM   #7
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Get his book, "On Writing" - Excellent book about our craft - that is if you can ignore/get passed/accept his gratuitous use of foul language that is.
I second that recommendation. I only recently re-read it and have to admit that I didn't notice the foul language. Not saying it wasn't there, only that whatever was there didn't strike me as out of place or gratuitous.
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Old 10-08-2012, 07:57 AM   #8
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I second that recommendation. I only recently re-read it and have to admit that I didn't notice the foul language. Not saying it wasn't there, only that whatever was there didn't strike me as out of place or gratuitous.

Not a careful reader then

The first half of the book has far more then the second half, and really I only noticed it because HE calls attention to it. Spends several pages as I recall talking about how your characters must curse if fits then and etc. Seemed like to me in those pages he had a personal vendetta to curse as much as he could.

Either way, was just tossing it out as a warning since that kind of language is not typically in that kind of book.
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Old 10-08-2012, 08:08 AM   #9
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Yes, but those successful authors that don't outline probably already know the story (i.e. outline) in their head and where they want the story to go etc.

but....yes, as with any art, you have to learn what works for you and follow it to success.
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Old 10-08-2012, 08:10 AM   #10
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Yes, but those successful authors that don't outline probably already know the story (i.e. outline) in their head and where they want the story to go etc. .

Nope. If you go read King's book, you will see he specifically attacks that point you just made.
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Old 10-08-2012, 03:25 PM   #11
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I second that recommendation. I only recently re-read it and have to admit that I didn't notice the foul language. Not saying it wasn't there, only that whatever was there didn't strike me as out of place or gratuitous.
gmw,
as a good writer/reader, you know how to cull and shake the chaff away and only digest the good part.
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Old 10-08-2012, 04:05 PM   #12
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gmw,
as a good writer/reader, you know how to cull and shake the chaff away and only digest the good part.
Exactly -which is why I make a horrible proof reader. As I mentioned only noticed it in this case cause he made a big deal of it in the text.
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Old 10-08-2012, 05:50 PM   #13
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I have key scenes and a rough idea of what happens, but mostly I just leave the characters to get on with it by themselves. So the first draft would be the closest I get to having an outline. I can see how it would save writing time by having it all mapped out in advance, but it would take me months of planning to do that before I even got to write anything. Even then it would probably end up changing.
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Old 10-08-2012, 07:52 PM   #14
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I have key scenes and a rough idea of what happens, but mostly I just leave the characters to get on with it by themselves. So the first draft would be the closest I get to having an outline. I can see how it would save writing time by having it all mapped out in advance, but it would take me months of planning to do that before I even got to write anything. Even then it would probably end up changing.
If I have a method (highly unlikely), then I'm with mr ploppy.
I do remember watching late night chat shows and hearing famous writers say that their characters just wrote themselves and they were just the conduit. At the time I thought 'what a load of pretentious rubbish'.

Of course that is exactly what happened to me when I sat down to write my first novel Year of the Celt.

I did get to a point about half way through when I lost my way for a week or two. So I just started writing backwards from the end (not literally). That got my juices flowing again.
As the book is largely inspired by the landscape where I live, walking the dog over the moors would often suggest a scene or some detail to add (a sound or smell).

I did try setting up a spreadsheet to link things together but I found I was just recording what I'd done rather than finding it useful in planning anything.
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Old 10-08-2012, 08:52 PM   #15
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People who don't outline don't seem to get that outlining is not usually a firm commitment... it's just notes.

I wrote a blog post the other day on my rather chaotic planning method, but the short version is: yeah I outline when the book is 3/4 done. It helps pull everything together.

I also do other planning tasks earlier.

I don't write in chronological order -- I can't. My mind moves way too fast, and I'm dyslexic and can't even take summarized notes that fast. So I write like I paint, laying down a foundation, playing with details and seeing how they fit with the rest. Yes, a structure develops, but it comes from the characters and story.

IMHO, both pantsing and plotting are skills a writer has to learn. Different stories will require different skills. You may prefer one or the other, but you need to be in a position to chose between them.

Oh, here's a link to the post "Dis-organizing a Novel:
http://daringnovelist.blogspot.com/2...ing-novel.html

Camille
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