Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Word on Outlining

I am often asked how I manage to write so prolifically. Many people think that I must have a great deal of time on my hands to write, but it's not abundance of time that has allowed me to write six books in the past year and a half, rather it’s the ability to plan. I’ve read a lot of blogs and articles lately that discuss the writing process, and more specifically, whether to outline or not. Many people think that outlining ties you down and restricts your story.

I would argue just the opposite.

An outline is not a prison. It does not restrict the writer's movement or creativity. It is merely a tool to ensure that your story actually comes to life. Before I wrote The Fire Stone, I had struggled for several years to write the same story. I would write about seventy pages and then it would occur to me that I had absolutely no idea where I was going with it. I did that over and over until I realized that I needed to have a plan. Could it be that I needed an outline?

The outline is an often dreaded, and frequently maligned, writing tool. An outline forces the writer to come up with a plot. We hate it because we are forced to come up with a fully formed idea instead of flailing about for days and weeks and years on end. This is actually a good thing. Without a plot there is no story. An outline forces us to have a goal. It doesn't mean we're locked into anything, it just gives us some boundaries.

When I outline I start with a very bare-bones sketch of what I think might happen. Then, I begin to add to that skeleton, a little bit at a time. Eventually, I begin to put in details so that everything fits together, but also so that I can remember important things that I want to add to certain scenes. I outline the story chapter by chapter, allowing half a page to a page of prose to describe each chapter.

Other authors may do less or more when they outline, but the point of an outline is to have an idea of where I am going before I begin to write. That certainly doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. I have as much freedom as I want to add, delete, or change directions. I have changed major characters and added whole chapters to my story that weren't in my original outline. The story and the author still have complete control over where the story will go, but using an outline ensures that the story actually gets written. After the story is written, it can always be edited and tweaked until it feels right. The editing is easier than than the writing process. So, my writing motto is: "just get it on the page", and the only way the writing will always get on the page is with an outline.

So that's my answer to how I write so quickly. I don’t feel that outlining limits my creativity; I believe it expands creativity because I have the freedom to add new ideas into a story that actually has a point.

On a very different note, I would just like to add that it is so important that we not abandon the people of Haiti during this catastrophe. It is very difficult for them to get the aid they need to recover from the earthquake. To donate to the Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti, you can text "HAITI" to 90999 to donate $10. It will be automatically added onto your phone bill.

Please help if you can.

Until next time,



Rhiannon Hart said...

Knowing where you're going certainly helps speed the writing process. I'm a bare-bones planner, and I keep a lot of scribbled disordered notes in one notebook, just in case I forget a certain plot point. Patrick Ness said something that helped me: "Know the last line." It's a very concrete thing to work towards.

It's always interesting to see how different people handle the writing process!

Riley Carney said...

It is very interesting - different techniques work for different people. I do think it helps to know where you're going!

Margie said...

Great post, Riley!


Dan Bodenstein said...

I'd love to see a sample of one of your outlines. Great article!