Sunday, February 21, 2010

On Outlines

A quick update: The water's back on, thankfully, though now the washing machine's totally broken. School continues to disrupt my plans for consistent posting. I have a major case of writing-phobia, which means I've hardly written anything since my JaNo story died at somewhere between 22k and 30k. And I still can't bring myself to write out of chronological order.

Lots of writers disagree on lots of points about writing. However, it seems the biggest debate of them all focus on the planning process, or lack thereof. I am speaking, of course, about Outlines vs. Winging It.

Now, I have nothing against either method. I've tried both. Neither has gotten me to finish a novel, of course, but both have gotten me past the 20k mark on separate projects, so I think I can work with both.

I like outlines. They're nice little guidelines to follow. This is the general path the story will follow. As far as I know, the biggest problem wingers have with outlines is that outlines theoretically "stifle creativity." I can see where some people might have problems in this way with outlines. If a person sticks too closely to the outline, without allowing it room to change or completely divert its path, the story can become stunted and unpalatable. However, the key word there is "allow." I had a lovely, well-thought-out outline for my 2009 NaNo project that went all the way from beginning to end. When I actually started writing, though, I replaced a major character, and then changed the nature of a setting, and it completely changed the story. I had to fix the outline. I did, up to a point. If I'd just stuck with the outline, I think the story would have suffered for it. But I allowed the story to change, and the outline with it.

I can also see where people who dislike winging projects come from. Having no structure can make things much more difficult than they need to be, especially for certain people with mild obsessive tendencies (like me). Winging it can be a good thing too, though, because it puts less pressure on following a set path and allows you to follow different avenues in the story, possibly leading to something that could seriously strengthen your story. My JaNo project proceeded as a winging project, though I had a sort of rough mental outline. At some point, a character disappeared. I hadn't intended her to disappear. Actually, it was sort of funny; one of the major characters was freaking out because that character (we'll call her K) wasn't around, and I was freaking out, too, because K wasn't supposed to leave. She was sort of like this glue I needed to hold the other characters to their sanity, and her disappearance caused all sorts of problems. But then I realized she'd been captured by a new character I'd never thought of before. Turned out he played an integral role in the overall storyline. Or will, actually, because I haven't finished it yet.

I've had good experiences with both methods. Personally, whether or not I use an outline depends on the project; some projects lend themselves more easily to my outlining style than others. My outlined projects are often the only projects with a definite ending--or hint of one, anyway.

My approach seems quite sensible to me, but then of course that's a natural response. Probably a person wouldn't think his or her own preferred method of doing something is insensible. It's almost like an ego thing, I'd think.

Gosh, I love writing...

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