17 January 2013

Experiments in outlining

I'm the type of writer who is variously known as a "discovery writer" or a "pantser." I get an idea, usually a beginning, middle, and end, then start writing.

This isn't necessarily bad for a short story, since it's much harder to write yourself into a corner in 5000 words than in 50,000 or more. It's a really bad plan for a novel, though. (I've learned this the hard way.)

So when I read the Writing Excuses transcript Brainstorming with Mary and the supplemental material, I thought I'd give that a shot, since it explains an actual process with examples. I'm not very good at learning without examples, so when someone says, "Outline your story!" I balk because I don't know how. All I remember is mandatory paper outlines for high school English.

Anyway. I'm writing a short story from an outline right now. It's maybe a little easier, since I already have guidelines for each scene, and I can still discover things while I'm writing. The first draft is kind of rough (duh), but this will mainly need tuning of the word choice and style kind, as opposed to fixing the plot. Probably. Which is a little different, and I like it.

After this, I guess it's time to outline a novel. I have one in mind, even.


John Wiswell said...

For novels I've found it more effective to create a loose plot skeleton - the big beats that absolutely must happen. It's a little thicker than three-act structure plotting, but it saves me from corners, and with my composition process the worst that happens is I create a modular off-shoot that I prune or cut entirely. For short stories, I'm right with you - a few points and go, hard to write myself into a corner.

Good luck!

CD Covington said...

I've tried using the very loose novel outline -- twice. It kind of works, but I still end up written into a corner or with plot holes the size of starships. Or I realize one bit doesn't work and I have to scrap 20k words. (Actually happened.)

How I usually end up plotting something is idea, beginning, middle, end, then seven points or so along the line. The ones at the end are very vague.

I'm hoping that if I figure things out in advance, use the synopsis to figure out the ending, then go into more detail in the outline, I'll have an easier go. And I can do my research while outlining, rather than get sucked into wikipedia while actually working.

For the short story, I had an outline that I stuck to about 85%. Some details changed, but it would still be recognizable from the synopsis.

Also, it seems like it's easier to write a synopsis first so you have something to submit. I've tried writing the synopsis after the story, and that's really hard. (For me.)