A Method to My Madness. Or Not.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with outlining. Way back when I was first learning it in English, I didn’t mind it because it was a could-be-done-in-my-sleep-with-one-hand-behind-my-back assignment. Simple. But then they started making me do it with my actual writing assignments. And when I made it to high school, it was required with my creative writing assignments. Personally, I tend to associate “spontaneous” with “creative” and there’s nothing less creative than an outline. Following an outline is by definition following a pattern. I hated it with a passion.

But then I started writing novels. I realized just how complicated it can be to try keeping track of everything in your head for over a year and 60,000 words. Without an outline, you run the risk of not having a set (or well-thought-out) plot or mixing up details and clues. It gets quite troublesome. On the other hand, figuring it out as you go (“pantsing” for those who like that term) lends the work a bit of freedom to go where it will. Both have their advantages. Or you can do a hybrid outline/pantsing thing with a little of both. There appears to be no really wrong way to do it.

1. Outlining

I’ve tried strict point-by-point outline with some of my work and it’s fallen completely flat every time. There’s something about trying to write a novel before actually writing the novel that completely douses my creative fires. All the ideas dry up, the passion for the work flies the coop, and everything goes kaput. Also, it tends to put me in an indescribably nasty mood in which I feel the need to give up and go hunt for character photos on Pinterest or consume copious amounts of junk food. But apparently it works for some people. *shrugs* Go figure.

2. Pantsing

Outside of having an endlessly amusing name, this method actually has some merit. You can go any direction you want without messing up a plotline and there are always later drafts to tighten everything up. I did this with my first novel.

And I’m never doing it again.

I’m still working on fixing that stupid book, thanks to a plot that was overly complicated and didn’t really work, characters that popped in with clues that didn’t make sense, and about a dozen other issues that all arose because of pantsing. While I will admit that the creative freedom is nice and can actually be helpful, I can’t advocate pantsing. Nor, apparently, can many other people. Just about all the people I know that write use outlines of some sort, most of them stricter than mine.

3. Hybrid Outlining

This is the method I’ve settled on using, because it combines the better elements of the previous two. You’ve got the structure of traditional outlining and at least a little of the pantsing freedom. I tend to write a loose outline and write from that, changing things and going in new directions as I see fit. It seems to work well so far. It feels a great deal less stifling than outlining as well as less I’m-lost-what-on-earth-am-I-supposed-to-be-doing than pantsing.

So, howsabout you? What are your views on the subject?

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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