Sunday, January 17, 2010

To Outline, or Not to Outline

I'll begin with some disappointing news. This past week I heard back from Leucrota Press, the fantasy/sci fi publisher that's had my manuscript, In the Seventeenth Year, under consideration for over a year. They emailed a rejection, but it came with some very encouraging comments and a helpful critique, which I am immensely grateful for. I plan to make the changes they suggested and continue submitting In the Seventeenth Year.

In the meantime, I'm still working hard on Killing Kessler. As I mentioned last week, I received some excellent constructive criticism and have been revising accordingly. Some of these comments were far-reaching and required major plot changes, so now I find myself rewriting almost the entire second half of the book. I'm trying something new as I do this, sort of an experiment. I'm writing as I go along without having everything planned out in advance -- flying by the seat of my pants you might even say.

I'm a planner, not just in writing but in all areas of my life. When I begin a new book, I spend at least a month creating a detailed outline, character biographies, setting sketches, and just about anything else I can think of that might help keep me on track. But I purposely did not plan this rewrite. I knew what needed to change, and I just dug in and started making it happen.

Of course it's all slop at the moment, as my first drafts always are. But some interesting things are happening now, things I didn't plan for. It's kind of fun this way: even I don't know what's coming next. My characters are getting themselves into all sorts of situations I didn't see coming. There have been times when I did not know what a character would do next until my fingers typed the words. I've heard about people who write this way, but I never thought I, with all my organization and planning tendencies, could be one of them.

Like I said, I'm in the rough draft "slop" stage right now. I really don't know how it will turn out. I may revise and find I can't use a word of it. I may write myself into a corner and not know how to get out. I may end up with so many loose ends that I can never tie them together. I suppose, even if those things happen, that I'll have learned and grown as a writer, and that's always worth the effort. I'll let you know sometime (soon, I hope!) hope my experiment works out.

So now I'm wondering about the rest of your writers, artists, etc. out there. Do you prepare a detailed outline in advance, or do you fly by the seat of your pants? I've heard of successful writers in both camps. Have you found any pros or cons that you could share?

Until next Sunday, happy writing, and may your coffee pot never run dry.

7 comments:

Sharon Mayhew said...

Hi, Susan!
I don't write outlines. Of course, I've never written a story that has more than 25,00 words...and I broke that one into three stories when I got done with it.

My mg historical fiction is my first attempt at something longer. I just finished reading a book about writing scene by scene. So that's how I'm doing it. When I finish a chapter I make an index card with the characters, setting and main actions in that scene. I have a compliation of notes with ideas, wordlists, chracter descriptions and setting information...

Luecrota doesn't know what they are missing out on! In the 17th Year is wonderful! It will find a home...

Susan Fields said...

Thanks for the kind words, Sharon! And your thoughts on outlines. It's so interesting to me to hear what other people do. Before this experiment, I never would have thought I could write without one, but I may end up finding that I can't, when I get done and nothing makes sense!

Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

I go back and forth, but for the most part I don't know what the heck I'm doing. Sometimes it shows; sometimes I get lucky.

Don't you hurt Kessler!! I love that book!

Susan Fields said...

I know, Amy - I am so afraid of ruining it with all this blind surgery I'm doing! Especialy since it's now like a "first draft" again, and therefore it's slop at the moment. But I know the comments I got were very valid and the book will be better for it in the end, I just gotta have faith I can get it all straightened out again someday. I guess that's one nice thing about outlines - it's a little less scary because you know where it's going and that it all fits together.

chopchop83 said...

hi sue. as a painter i have found that i like to start out with a firm idea of an image in my mind, i sometimes will also use a very rudimentary sketch of a major shape, or rough composition...i have worked to adhere as closely as possible to my original idea for the image, but whenever i work that way, the work disappoints me. i have much greater success by starting on the predetermined path, then allowing THE PROCESS of creating the work to take over, with my guidance of course. somehow, while painting many other possibilities arise, much more so than following a predetermined plan. i find this method to be the most satisfying, yielding many opportunities to enrichen the work.

Susan Fields said...

Thank you for the painter's perspective, Ed! I think what you're saying is exactly what I'm finding with the revisions I'm making now. I knew what changes needed to be made when I started, but I'm just allowing them to happen without really knowing where they'll take me. I hope I have as much success with this new method as you do!

Amanda B. said...

I made no outline for my novel. I thought it would hinder my creativity. Well, I had serious problems in my plot as a result, which were able to be fixed. I will plan out the next one more carefully. In the meanwhile, I'm writing short stories which don't have as far to go from point A to B.