Wednesday, February 22, 2012

More Whining about Outlines

I stink.

I've been sick (nasty sick) for the past 24 hours or so. The sort of sick where having oatmeal for dinner was a big accomplishment. I'm pretty sure that it was food poisoning, but that's a trickier thing to diagnose than most people realize.

I'm feeling much better now, after having slept all day. I may even take a shower. The idea of going back to bed makes me tired (heh) but if I don't, my sleep schedule will be even more messed up than it already is.

All that aside, I had a fantastic time at Radcon. I was able to hitch a ride with the amazing and talented Sara Mueller. We spent the entire time talking while my poor daughter listened to the music loop over and over because we weren't paying attention to the CDs enough to notice when they'd gone back to the beginning. And then, after a good lunch at the Atomic Pub, we got to be on a panel together.

To Outline or not to Outline: We had a huge number of panelists, and still the non-outliners outnumbered the outliners five to one. Seriously? Being a non-outliner, I wasn't surprised ... which is directly opposite to my point. My point being that it's harder for me to find those little surprises when I outline. Good outliners find their twists and shockers in the outline. Bearing in mind that I don't know a large enough group of writers to call my observations in any way definitive, scientific, etc. and also bearing in mind that my stints with outlining have been brief ....
Outliners who struggle often run into the following situations:
The story moves from scene to scene in a very linear, logical fashion such that the reader will see the ending coming a mile away. This isn't a huge problem if the story is incredibly entertaining, and the characters are fun to watch. A good sign that the story is working even if everything is fairly predictable is that the author is having a ball writing it. If you're having fun, chances are the reader will have fun too.
The writer skips around the book as s/he writes, planning to fill in later. After all, it's all planned out, right? Why not write the scenes that you're excited about writing and get to the others when you have a really good idea on how to approach them? I've noticed two pitfalls here. The people I know who write this way have a much more difficult time finishing the project. They never get around to writing those harder scenes. Also, there's often a flow issue. When scenes are written in order, they often lead into each other naturally, even when there's a pov switch. Our brilliant subconscious has a great sense of word and tone choice that can subtly connect one section to another. This is less of an issue if there are radical jumps in the storyline. Interestingly, I've heard many writers who write multiple points of view or who employ time travel or make a story of characters who are in different parts of the world and never meet often write the whole story of each character/setting/time and then carefully break these up and fit them together like a puzzle. Very kewl!
Outliners also sometimes spend so much time outlining that it gets in the way of their actual writing. Why not put off putting words on the page when it's so easy to delay in favor of tweaking the complicated and scary middle game portion of the book?

I tried using the Snowflake Method. Developed by writer and engineer Randy Ingermanson, I found it to be an incredibly helpful tool. If I were to outline, this is the method I'd use. Having said that, if I went much past step five or six, the project began to languish. I lost a lot of the sense of excitement of discovery, and I became reluctant to write the project. It felt like it had already been written, if that makes sense. When I write, I'm telling myself a fun story. I like it when things pop out at me from nowhere, and I love it when I realize what's really going on (which sometimes forces me to go back to the beginning and change and add a few things.) Snowflaking necessarily took away that feeling in process. The surprises all happened in the outlining stage, and it became less interesting to actually write the dang thing.

Having said all that, there are many fine outliners out there writing great books. Also, different books require different approaches, and different styles of outlining. If I were writing a murder mystery, I wouldn't dream of going in without some sort of over-arching plan. I'd have to know whodoneit at minimum, and preferably have an idea of what sort of clues might be available. Maybe I don't write them in part because it would take so much effort and planning on my part. Writers who can write these books may be able to write them without an outline because their brilliant minds are geared for it. But I will say that of the mystery writers I know, at least back in the early days, they wrote with a plan. With experience, a plan may become less necessary--or their ability to outline effectively becomes so honed that it just becomes part of their genius.

It's worth it to try to outline once or twice if you've never attempted it. It can be a fantastic tool, and there's no way to know if it'll enhance your writing or not until you give it a go. It didn't work for me, but it might work great for you. Also, don't be afraid to bubble diagram or use any other creative development tools out there. They exist because they work. When I get stuck, I sometimes doodle around with bubble diagrams, but usually I do better with a hot bath or taking a walk.

I may write about the rest of the panels later on. You know me. Sometimes I get to it, and sometimes the chickens get out of their yard and I have to tell y'all about chasing them around the garden for an hour. Until next time ....


Anonymous said...

Radcon had massive viral outbreak.

Kami said...

Yeah. Turns out it was norovirus. I got sick, Sara got sick, but my daughter didn't. Considering my daughter and I roomed together and the three of us rode there and back again in a small car, I don't think it was transmitted through casual contact. I really do believe it was something Sara and I ate.