Outlines

Not the chalk kind. The writing kind.

I’ve written three books so far, and for each one I did a slightly longer outline before I started. The first, for example had no outline whatsoever. I just winged it straight through. That would be the book that I’ve majorly revised twice now. The second book had about a paragraph worth of outlining and the third, almost a page. So yeah, I’m mostly a pantser (as in writing by the seat of your pants), not a planner.

That’s changing though. As part of a work-for-hire pitch, I’ve had to do a extensive outline for a book. It ended up coming in at about 10K in words, or about ten percent of a 100K book. Doing it has convinced me that maybe outlines have some use. It’s certainly a lot easier to spot your plot problems and then correct them with an outline.

The thing is, while I can see their usefulness now, writing an outline is still painful. Not because of the work involved- this is all stuff that’s going directly into the book, so it’s not “extra” work. No, what’s painful is the style.

Outlines are bare bones description of the books plot. You write them out in much the same way you would explain a book to a friend– “See, there’s this guy. And he’s rich, and when he was a kid, this other guy, this bad guy, he shoots the good guys parents. Right in front of him! So then the kid, the guy, he goes to Tibet or someplace, I don’t know but there are mountains and kung fu people, and he leans kung fu. Also, he has this thing about bats. Anyway…”

Okay, it’s not that bad. But it sometimes feels like it. Writing an outline breaks so many rules of good writing. It’s all tell with no show. There’s no life, no description, no voice. It’s the ugly plot bones without the thick padding of narrative flesh.

Which is what it’s supposed to be. Being stripped down, naked of all that other good stuff, makes it easy to see if the bones are all there and that they line up like they’re supposed to.

But they’re still ugly.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Outlines

  1. Do you ever feel that writing the outline sorta ruins the mystery of it for you? Does it ever take the “oomph” out of writing the story?

    I have to be careful not to get too detailed in my outlines (which takes constant jerking on the reins of my brain) or I start to feel like I already wrote the story and lose interest in actually writing it.

  2. Gary Kloster

    I thought a bit about that. I know that I sometimes drag a little at the end of a book, since I know how it’s all going to end. So it’s done, right?

    I’m not too worried though. The outline is fairly bare bones, and I think that I’ve managed to put in enough detail to make the writing flow, without having so much there that I’ll feel like I’m just filling in the gaps between the best bits.

    Guess I’ll find out.

    • Here’s to good outlines. And good endings.

      Your ending in “Conjugation” (short story on Daily Science Fiction) was absolutely perfecto. You’re one of the very few I gave “7 out of 7 rocket dragons”.

      Keep up the good work, dude. 🙂

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