Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Outlining for the Faint of Heart

I've never been an outliner. This is probably because I didn't have the patience for it when I first started writing as a kid--or because I thought writing was too creative an endeavor to be manacled by something as stuffy as an outline. This also probably explains why the vast majority of my works-in-progress (most of which, again, I started as a tween or teen) never made it much farther than chapter three.

Then college came and went (I did manage to escape with a degree, thankfully), and although college was in general a muse killer, it did teach my brain a way to think. Ordered my thoughts in a way that they had never been ordered before. So when I was having trouble with the plot of my latest book and my husband suggested that I try outlining it in some way, I didn't snort derisively and lecture him on the finer points of creativity. I decided to give it a try. And it worked.

It wasn't a stringent outline, mind you. And it changed (a lot) over the course of the actual writing. But it was nice to see the plot on paper, to get a general feel for how the scenes would fit together and relate to one another. It made the editing easier, too, since it's easier to move sections of an outline back and forth than chapters in a book.

Lately I've been developing outlines for several other ideas I've had, and this whole outlining process has revealed another unexpected benefit: It's a great way to determine which ideas I'm passionate about and which ones will actually work. I've already put one concept back on my idea sheet because it wasn't going anywhere (or not anywhere I wanted to go, that is), and another one went down when its outline revealed that the concept wasn't plausible, even though I loved its hook. And I'm glad I figured that out now, before I've penned a single word, and not a hundred or two hundred pages from now, when my background in economics finally convinces me that sunk costs are indeed irrelevant.

So now I'm an outliner, although I still consider myself an organic writer, too. Maybe it's simply a matter of balance--and trying something new. So there you have it, folks, another solution to everything: When you find you have a problem (with your plot, your characters, your in-laws, or whatever), don't keep doing what you're doing. Maybe that moron on the other side of the debate isn't really such a moron after all.

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