To outline or not to outline

Joe’s Post #74

hamletThat is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of rewrite after rewrite or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by outlining end them.

Thing is, it’s not like there’s a right or wrong answer here. No really. It totally depends on the writer. Both ways – outlining or not outlining – have their good and bad points. Very quickly…

No Outlining – More creativity. Easy to get into the flow of writing scenes. Maximum inspiration. See Writer’s Digest take on it. Downside – You will need to rewrite the whole novel – sometimes more than once – unless you’re super amazing (and there are writers out there like that). It’s a TON of work to rewrite a whole novel. Like remaking a piece of Ikea furniture without instructions and forgetting to attach the noobler to the wookweiner. And then redoing it again cuz like you forgot the wankdinger has to slip inside the bagvik. Yuck, right?

Outlining – Easier to keep a complex plot organized. All sorts of wrongish things can be spotted and fixed. See Joseph Finder‘s take on it. Downside  (a big one) – it can suck the life out of your desire to write that story. Like writing Ikea instructions. In your own blood. While it’s raining. It’s hard, blood-soaked work. And isn’t writing supposed to be fun?

left right brainIt’s the classic left brain vs right brain. Logical, analytical, objective vs intuitive, action-oriented, subjective. Spock vs Kirk.

Now, I’ve tried both outlining and not outlining, but for the last novel, I settled on a hybrid make-a-rough-outline-then-write system. Sort of like a Frankenstein’s monster that tried to marry creation and order. 

That system, which I have dubbed, the ‘it looks like someone threw up sticky notes all over my table’, resulted in a surprisingly hole-filled plot. Oh, I remember the critique well. “Joe, you forgot about Blahblah the Dorfmaster who appeared on page 67 and then was forgotten.” Or, more embarrassingly, “You have no ending. No climax.” Or “You forgot to bring coffee to the critique session.”

Not good. Not good at all.


Now all of these things, (and many, many more), I could have solved by a more detailed outline… but a detailed outline that SOMEONE ELSE READS.

That’s why we’re looking at doing up a detailed outline for our next big 5/5/5 meeting. It’s one thing to write out one of those things, to go through it yourself and try to spot errors or omissions or a propensity to overuse the word ‘blood-soaked’, but another thing entirely to have someone else look at it. Where are the high points, the low points? Is there action or tension or sex in enough scenes? Have I lost a character or two in the journey? Is my plot so tight you could bounce quarters off it?

See, none of us have done a detailed outline and shared it. The hope is that by doing so we’ll learn a little more about plot, character, story-telling, emotion, pacing… well, pretty much everything. I’ve been fortunate enough to critique an outline by a great outliner and have found that I can often get a better idea of the story than if I read the whole novel and certainly better than reading 30 page chunks at a time. It’s like looking at the whole pizza and seeing if it needs more cheese, or pickles or whatever. It’s way easier than judging it from just one bite (or 50 bites over a year).

Who knows if we’ll all turn into dedicated outliners? I suspect Silk will never be one as she is such an amazingly creative person. I suspect Paula, having done such a great job with her last novel, will continue to outline as a way of keeping her from running after shiny new things. Karalee and Helga could go either way.

Me, I’ll just be happy to try something new.

What I hope, though, is that I’ll become a better story-teller like the guys who wrote Up. Sadly, I’m still a lot more like Dug the dog.


Pie chart confessions

Silk’s Post #9 — Since I spilled my guts on the subject of War last night (unintentially proving how easily I’m diverted off the track of my still-gestating story), I’ll keep this Monday morning post short and sweet.

Yes, I confess to the habitual sin of not putting my novel at the top of my list every morning. Oh, it’s always there in my to-do’s. But it’s always in the ‘as soon as’ category. As soon as I finish my paid writing for Client X. As soon as I finish my volunteer writing for Organization Y. As soon as I get at least the worst clumps of cat hair off the floor. As soon as I get back from the gym.  As soon as I call my friends who just got whacked by Hurricane Sandy. As soon as I pay the bills. As soon as I take that slip for blood work to the lab, the one that’s been sitting on my counter for three weeks. As soon as I do something edible with the fresh apples from our orchard, now starting to wither in a basket in the basement.

I know! I’ll make some pies for the freezer.

Characters created to date: 12

Backstory concocted: probably too much

Locations researched and described: 6

Plot figured out: beginning, middle, end

Outline completed: 0% – I’ve determined I’m a NOP

Scenes envisioned: not enough to get to the middle

Scenes written: 1

Pies eaten this week: 0

Pies made this week: 12

Today I’m going to go bake and eat some pie. As soon as I get a couple thousand words written.


Rotten Tomatoes – a new candidate

Helga’s Post #8 — Collectively, there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth on our blog since it started. A quick review produced some real doozies. Like these: (by no means the unabridged collection)

– Traitorous Doubts: I could see it coming.  A wall.  A big one.

– Pages written to date: Zero! Which means by whatever formula you apply, I’m in trouble, with a capital “T”.

– I know, I should hunker down and write that novel, like my four writing partners. But…

– Worse yet, if I am to continue with my ‘true confessions’ I must admit to not having written a word since October 22nd.

– No further plots plotted, period, full stop.

– Next to “the dog ate my homework”, mine is probably the most common excuse of all time: I’m sick.

– But wait … do I really have 137 days? Of course not. There are at least 8 “holidays” over that period, when I am not likely to write a word.

And so on and so forth. What motivated me to look back instead of going forward?

Because – and this is the biggest confession until now, on the entire blog, one that would have a priest flee the confessional box, cassock fluttering wildly, a confession that will surely make you gasp collectively in disgust – one that…. no, wait. This sentence is getting way too long. ‘Must write short sentences’, gurus always tell their student writers.

So, to pick up the thread of the subject of this post – confession.  Reason I looked BACK at our posts was in hope of finding some solace, something comparable to what I have done, so as not to feel like an outcast.

You will agree, once you read on, that the Rotten Tomatoes Award (if one existed for authors) must without doubt, be conferred to me. At least that would be the case if the clock stops ticking now and we would compare progress as of today. Forget your extended periods of writers block, forgive yourself for tossing out 30 pages of your writing, ignore above mentioned citations of gnashing teeth, because this, esteemed colleagues and friends, is nothing compared to yours truly.

Before I go on (confessions never were my strong suit) this picture will help me explain. Or rather ease you into it. The 5 books (ah, the number 5 again: an omen?) are the bulk of my research for my NEW novel.

Yes. New as in new since earlier this week.

So, now it’s out. While you wring your hands and mutter disparaging remarks, let me explain. I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of my protagonist. She just wouldn’t shut up about how she is bored with me, and she wants to do something different, something more worthwhile than what I’d saddled her with. She had the nerve to visit me during all hours of the night with absurd statements like “I don’t want my lover to get a new kidney from an executed Chinese prisoner. Who wants to read about organ snatchers anyway? Been there, done that. How boring! How morose. Who would want to read that book?”

I just couldn’t get her to cooperate. Even after introducing another character, an intriguing sexy man, hoping I could con her. A guy most women would swoon over. But no, she didn’t want to speak to me any more. Dead silence. Writers block. Thick wall, much like Joe’s in his last post.

And then a new dawn. It came about over coffee with a friend. When she too agreed with my protagonist that this sounds like a really depressing book, I knew I had to make a change. Probably knew it all along, because my heart wasn’t in it. Because I found excuses not to write.

Out with the old, in with the new.

My new story, like my abandoned one, will be suspense, though nobody will snatch kidneys, livers, corneas and hearts from not-yet-really-dead people. But on a larger scale, it will be more sinister. In a less gory way, if you know what I mean. And there is hope in the end.

So for me, this is no longer a 5 month challenge. It’s a 3 month one. Given that I will be away for the month of December on another continent, where my writing time will be severely restricted, it’s more a 2 month challenge. And all I have to show for as of this moment, is an outline of an outline. And a protagonist that keeps following me. She wants a piece of the action. (Still working on the new villain).

You see why I chose the Rotten Tomatoes title? But I’ve made peace with my protagonist.

To write or not to write, that is the question

My writing ‘room’.

Paula’s Post #1  So, unlike my friend Silk, I don’t actually have a well stocked desk to sit at, ergonomic or otherwise. Well, actually I do, but that’s not the way I write. I like to write on my laptop … on the sofa in the living room, outside on the terrace with my spectacular view of Passage Island and Howe Sound (at least when the sun is not shining on my laptop’s screen).

Most of all, l like to write late at night, lying in bed (and I guess, with these bad habits, I will indeed be visiting the physio in the next few months). But my perfect time to write is when the house is asleep (or at least my husband and the two snoring poodles who share our bed), and the muse is ready to come out and whisper ideas to me.

But right now, I’m not writing at all. Not yet. And although the clock is ticking away, and every second, every minute, every hour hurls us closer to our FEBRUARY 5TH DEADLINE, I can’t start writing yet.

Why you ask. Well, by now, we’ve all got at least one ‘practice’ novel under our belts, some of us more than one. And what have I learned from my own practice novels? I’ve learned that I LOVE TO WRITE! For me, the joy of writing is letting my characters take me on a whipsaw ride through the landscape of my manuscript. I don’t want to know where I’m going – I want my protagonist to tell me the story. To surprise me. And the faster I write, the more engrossed I become in the characters, the plots and subplots and my exotic setting, be it the dusty plains and poppy fields of Afghanistan or the or the sordid back alleys of pre-war Honolulu’s Hotel Street.

So right now, I’m itching to write. To enter my imaginary world, to meet my characters, to ‘hear’ them speak, to walk, to run, to hope, to fear.

 But not this time.

This time, I’m not going to start by writing. This time – dare I whisper this most unfamiliar word? – this time, I’m starting by ‘outlining’.

There, I’ve said it! Now if only I can make myself sit down to the tedious task of completing that outline. I’ve got to try, I’ve been lost in the sagging middle of some of my previous efforts, so this time, I know I have to change things up.

So, like Silk and perhaps like every one of our ‘5 writers’ I’ll be flipping through my writing books, looking for sage advice from Donald Maass, Hallie Ephron, James Scott Bell, Elizabeth George and even Stephen King.  I hope they are going to help me start off on the right track. I hope I can resist the temptation to say, ‘to heck with this, I’m going to start writing’.

Only time will tell. I’ve got some great tools at my disposal. I’m starting to outline my Young Adult thriller using a writing software program called ‘StoryMill’. And I must say it puts some fun into the process. Check it out and you’ll see what I mean.

Right now, I don’t yet feel like I’m free-wheeling down the sidewalk. Not yet. But I promise to tell you how I’m doing with my outlining. Whether I’m managing to conquer the irresistable urge just to write.

What do you think – am I right? Should I outline, or should I look at the calendar, panic and just write, write, write?