Outlining: Yes, No or Mandatory?

I have been asked many, many times about the process of writing; where I sit, what program I use, how I do my research, what time of day do I write, etcetera. One question that always seems to pop up is “Do you outline?” While the answers to most of the questions have changed over the years, that one has not.
For me, the answer is an unequivocal, “Yes” but not because I think it is a good thing for every writer to do. I know many top name, and even Nebula winning, authors who do not outline, but for me, it’s a memory thing. I get good ideas…then promptly forget them. If I do not write a story plot, scene or character down, in the span of a week, it’s gone. If I make notes, however, those memories return. Hence, the outline.
Now, I must explain one thing before going further: if you ask one hundred authors how they ply their craft, you will probably get one hundred answers, and none of them is wrong. If you have to dictate in the shower with a waterproof recorder to get your creative process flowing, do it! I sat on a panel discussion with David Drake once, and he stated that he had to write outdoors, even when it rained, which explained why he went through so many laptop computers. So, do whatever works for you.
Also, I’d like to state that my outlines are never cast in stone. Things change during the writing process; plots, and especially characters, evolve, shift and must be accommodated. This, again, is not the case for every author. I was in an online discussion about characterization with another author, and I explained how my characters often took over the story. He was baffled at the concept. He asked how my characters could possibly do something I had not planned for them to do, since I created them. I tried to explain that my characters were “real people” but he probably thought I was just crazy… Yep, like a fox…
One other thing that has recently happened to me concerning outlines came up when I got an offer from Paizo Publishing to submit a story pitch for a novel. Their editor, James Sutter, wanted the submission in the form of an outline, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. Wow! That was a tall order, and if I had never written a novel from an outline, I probably couldn’t have done it, but it worked out fine. I pitched my outline, they accepted it, and I started writing. So far, so good! I have deviated little from that outline (though some), and the novel should be out in April 2013.
So when next posed the question, “Do you outline?” I will have a new answer: “Sometimes, it’s mandatory!”


Outlining: Yes, No or Mandatory? — 2 Comments

  1. When I was living in my last house I had an actual ‘office’ for my computer & writing stuff. I took those cork board squares and covered the wall above my desk with them and I had my story all laid out in index cards tacked to ’em. It was joyous!

    Allas, I’m broke and back to single room apartment living… but Someday!! 🙂

    • Brandy, Anne here. I’ve heard of others who used the index-card method, too, but never quite understood how you use the index cards. Does each card detail a scene, an idea or a character? Organization (or rather, disorganization) of thoughts is a personal downfall, so I’d love to know. Any other ideas are welcome, too!

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