The next time you want to really piss off a group of writers, tell them that only fools refuse to outline their novels. Locate the nearest exit before making this grand declaration, however. You may need it.
Outlining (or the refusal to indulge in such logical Vulcan OCD behavior) is a perpetual hot button topic. Typically introverted writers will whip themselves into quite the extroverted frenzy whenever it’s raised. On the one hand, an outline is a helpful guide preventing novel stall out. On the other hand, outlining can drastically curtail any sense of spontaneous creativity in favor of sticking to The Plan.
Do I outline? It depends.
Freelance articles, yes, I outline. It decreases the overall time I spend writing, increases the quality of my first draft, and smooths the sometimes painful revision process.
For my novel, not so much.
For example, when I followed a strict outline for the first attempt, the work in progress felt (and sounded ) too stiff, too formal and frankly, too boring. More laxity was allowed for the second attempt, but even that version got dumped because the novel ended up going all over the place and nowhere at all.
My current version is a blend of both.
Since my novel is based around a historical event, outlining is necessary for the research part. I have to thoroughly understand both the big and small picture first before creating the story around it.
I’m more flexible with my characters, though. The essential players are there, along with their general backstory, but for the most part I’m content to let them develop as we go along. I’m amazed at who ends up popping out of the woodwork when I take this path.
Do I have a set of chapter blueprints? Kind of. They’re more notes than anything else. They’re pointers on how to keep the novel moving without locking me into specific actions that MUST happen. Again, I’m surprised at what appears when I loosen the reins.
The last thing I do is restrain the editor within. If I get a creative brainstorm after finishing up a chapter, I’ll insert the idea via a comment balloon next to the paragraph in question. Once the draft is done I’ll review the comments and incorporate the valuable ones into the revisions while tossing the worthless ones.
So there you have it.
Purists might say I lean more toward the stricter outline camp than the let-it-all-hang-out camp. They’re probably right but what’s more important is this blended, half-and-half method is doing the trick for me.
And the next time someone decides to incite a writers’ riot on outlining, I’ll be standing far away on the fringes.