Thursday, July 11, 2013

My Nemesis, the Outline.

by Allison Pang

Like so many others this week, I rarely outline. While I can definitely see their merit, they just don't work for me. I suspect many of my failed attempts with writing organizers like Scrivener probably are for most of the same reasons. Sometimes, I do think if I could just sit down and get it all put into an electronic binder of sorts, I'd be better off, but for whatever reason I always feel like I'm wasting writing time when I do that.

At any rate, I don't tend to outline much - and if I do, it's usually just random notes jotted down in my notebook with some ideas of where I'd like the story to go. I don't go so far as to plot out scenes or anything, just more of a running stream of consciousness. Otherwise I have a hard time getting motivated to do the actual writing - I already know what happens, so my interest level tends to drop.

Most of the time, I only do this when I get stuck. I find the physical act of using a pen and paper tends to jiggle things lose idea-wise and then I figure out what I need to do and I move on.

However, as fancy free as my writing style tends to be, I still have to buckle down to publisher requirements when they are requested. Part of what got me paid was when I turned in outlines for the upcoming books, so I will grant you that money makes a compelling motivation at times.

But what was interesting is that my editors didn't seem to care much if I deviated from those outlines. I think they were really to help assess if I had plans of doing something a little too outrageous with the characters or storylines (e.g. Abby runs off to the Avocado Jungle of Death to live with the Amazons or something). That said, I really hated having to come up with them and the finished book often only bore a really vague resemblance. Hell, most of the concepts in the outline for A Sliver of Shadow actually ended up in A Trace of Moonlight, simply because the muse took me in a different direction once I got there.

It's also often true that plot threads don't always click together for me until I get to the end of the book and then suddenly I'll look back and realize "oh - *that's* what that means!" and then it all makes sense with a few careful tweaks.

Now, I do outline/plot for Fox & Willow, as I've noted before. It's a collaborative project, and it's not fair to Aimo to have her drawing things on the fly, so it makes sense that we know where things are headed. It's not like we can go back and change it once it's out there, after all.

Whether you outline or not, I think the key is having a flexible outlook. Different projects can require different ways of tackling them. Novels can be fun to panster - they offer a lot of room to play around with concepts and to get your act together, but getting to the 90k mark and realizing you've written yourself into a corner due to something you wrote at the 10k mark is usually pretty awful, so YMMV.

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