Plotting verses Growing- how do you write?

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  • #200153
    Michael Tinker Pearce
    Participant
    • Topics - 20
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    How do you write? Do a detailed outline and follow it rigorously? Establish a world and characters and let the story grow naturally until it establishes it’s own direction? Somewhere in between?

    We do both depending on what we’re writing. When we’re writing for Foreworld they want a fairly detailed outline and would prefer that you stick to it. Not that there’s no room for the story to take it’s own direction but that direction needs to stay at least recognizably within the outline.

    Writing for ourselves we tend towards a more ‘organic’ approach- establish the background and a few characters with only a very general outline and see where it goes. ‘Diaries of a Dwarven Rifleman’ started out with an idea of where it would wind up and ended up somewhere completely different… but better. “The Gray Man Journals: Hunter’s Blues” (still in progress) I had nothing but the character and his situation at the beginning and the plot emerged as I wrote, but I was 15K words into the story before I had any real idea what direction the book would take in the end. Now we know where we want it to go but are letting it ‘grow’ in that direction rather than establishing an outline.

    So what works for you?

    #218020
    chronicwriter
    Participant
    • Topics - 5
    • Replies - 18

    If my outline is too rigid I get bored and annoyed and stop caring about the story. I make constantly-evolving character profiles and rough out a few scenes that are particularly important. After that I’m just taking dictation. At least for the zero draft. Revisions get a bit more deliberate once I know what’s going on.

    #218021
    zette
    Moderator
    • Topics - 583
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    I don’t know anyone who does an extensive outline and sticks completely to it. They just don’t work that way and aren’t meant to. I tend to do a longer outline than most people — at least for some work — but just like others who start in on the actual writing, new ideas and directions give the novel more depth you will not see until you are actually doing the writing itself. When this happens, you expand and change outlines in places.

    What the outline does do is give you a definite direction, though the path may change along the way. This means you will not get half way through the book and realize you can’t see how to connect the pieces and reach an interesting outcome. With an outline of interesting events, from start to finish, you are not going to get bored with the mythical ‘boring middle’ of the novel. When you write an outline, the story is no longer three parts (opening, middle, end), but flows from one part of the adventure to another, all of the pieces logically connected and building on previous pieces.

    Like I’ve said before, outlines are road maps: They are a way to trace out the journey, but they aren’t going to tell you everything you do or say along the way, and they are apt to go off track when you find detours and side trips. The outline is still there to show you were you need to go to reach the ending you want. The outline also allows you to focus on the important aspects of the story like characterization and the actual adventure rather than ‘What happens next? How can I make this interesting? How can I tie this together?’

    Outlines are not meant to be set-in-stone. They’re guidelines to help you remember the important aspects of the story you want to write when you’re deep into the adventure. They can help you actually reach The End rather than losing your way after the first flush of fun at the start of a new story.

    Also, remember — writing the outline is the organic side of creation for those who use them. They are creating the story in a very short form (no matter how long the outline, the novel is going to be much longer). This is just as creative and organic as sitting down and starting the novel without an outline. It’s just that many of us find we waste far less time and abandon far fewer stories if we have a clear idea of what’s going to happen.

    #218029
    Michael Tinker Pearce
    Participant
    • Topics - 20
    • Replies - 82

    I wasn’t implying a slight to people that use outlines or implying that it was less creative. I was just meaning that the story grows out of the character development, the underlying ‘world’ of the story and the events in the story until an outline emerges. I don’t know of any reason this couldn’t happen to someone developing an outline just as easily, that’s just a different way of doing it. If it works it can’t be wrong, can it?

    I know writers that don’t write their outlines down, another that scribbles them on the back of a napkin (or whatever is handy.) Still another fellow that I know writes a 200 page outline for a 500 page novel, then fills in the details, following the outline quite rigidly. The end result in all these cases is good, so I certainly wouldn’t claim that one method is superior to or ‘more creative’ than another!

    When we write for Foreworld we’re writing-for-hire, with a client that has a very specific way of doing things. We have to have a good written outline and for the most part stick to it because that’s what the customer wants- a story that is close to the pre-appproved outline. The client is on a schedule and doesn’t have time for ‘surprises.’ In some ways we enjoy this less than ‘winging it’ and just seeing what happens, but that is a personal preference, not an absolute statement that it is ‘The Right Way’ to do it.

    Zette, your post made me realize we actually do use outlines when we’re not-writing-for-hire; we just don’t write them down and sometimes they don’t emerge until the story is well underway…

    #218031
    zette
    Moderator
    • Topics - 583
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    Oh, I didn’t mean that you thought it was less creative. However, some of us who do use outlines have been told straight out that we are less creative because we do so. I’ve been taking the time to point out that the creativity merely comes in a slightly different process.

    I know people who are plot-driven and I know people who are character-driven, and both types use outlines. What they put in those outlines just has a different focus. It’s been fascinating to see how people handle them.

    I never used to work with outlines, however the more complex my life became, the more I began to do notes and outlines to keep track of stories I wanted to tell. Odd things happened, too. The outlines helped to define better and deeper stories in the first draft. I began to play more with subplots and threads, and have them all come together without a lot of trouble in the end.

    I still sometimes don’t outline even longer work because I feel I have a story idea strong enough to hold me through. Or, more likely, I start the novel and then outline from the point where the story is no longer as clear.

    There’s all sorts of ways to handle it.

    #218022
    Linda Adams
    Participant
    • Topics - 38
    • Replies - 217

    I throw paint at the wall and see what sticks. Occasionally my story needs a warning label: Geologically unstable. Story may shift at any time.

    I am experimenting with a very organic approach right now for a revision, which started with not trying to make the story fit into the 3-act structure (yes, I jettisoned “structure”). These questions came from another writer who doesn’t outline (in the current issue of Writers Digest):

    1. Does the scene escalate the tension of the one before it?

    2. How is this event caused by the one before it?

    3. What is the setback in the scene?

    4. How does the scene end unexpectedly?

    I’ve been through numerous writing courses, most of which felt like people just saying in various ways, “You have to outline,” and me saying, “I can’t outline. Now what?” But the questions above were like a major breakthrough. They fit how I write.

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