Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Outlining Versus Winging It Redux

So, in a recent post I discussed the differences between plotting out a novel in its entirety and going with the flow to see where the story takes you. At the time I was planning to try detailed outlining, thinking it might save me from the dreaded "shitty first draft" by replacing it with the "shitty first outline." My reasoning being it would be easier to fix an outline than a draft.

Well, after two weeks of frustration, I'm admitting defeat. I am not an outliner. I went around in circles on the same plot points. Which isn't to say the experiment was a total loss, in fact I have a rough outline for the next two novels of The Gateway Series, but I was simply unable to move beyond a certain point.

Yesterday I sat down for a long day of writing, and using the notes I'd made, banged out over 2500 words. What seems to work for me is to have a general plot sketch and then let the story evolve as I go. Before I write each scene I plot out what needs to happen in the scene and what the character motivations are, their goals, etc. So I'm essentially outlining, but I can only get so far ahead of myself. I'm reminded of this quote:

"It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."        ~E.L. Doctorow

Shitty first draft, here I come!


  1. You've got to do what works best for you. I know that I need to outline, but I've read enough great books from authors who don't outline to know that we all have our own ways.

  2. Agreed, Jim. It's all about personal preference. I *really* wanted outlining to work for me, but in a way it's not a surprise that it didn't. I'm fairly non-linear. When I'm writing one scene, ideas for other scenes pop up and I scribble (or type) in the margins. Maybe it was focusing too much on what comes next actually stopped the flow for me...? Between drafts one and two, I loosely outline to fix any issues I've got with structure and pacing, but I think I need the first draft to only be partially planned with plenty of room to move.

  3. I'm the same way. I rarely outline. If I do, I come up with jumbled sentences of things I want to happen chapter by chapter.
    I thought that I could outline my next novel, but I can't. I'm just writing out details I want in it, and hopefully, I'll be able to make sense of it just by sitting down and writing. That's how all of my other work has been, and so far, they're turning out just fine. Hopefully. :)

  4. I'm sure they're great, Emerald. Good luck!

  5. I find even if I plot things out pretty thoroughly, the characters tend to do what they want to do anyway. I say write the first draft in the way that feels most comfortable. Perfecting it is what revisions are for.

  6. Agreed, Susan. My problem is when the revisions become overly complicated because of poor planning on my part. I def need to strike the right balance...