Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Writing without an outline

Why not use an outline?

When I first started writing, I did use an outline.  Not only did I outline the first book, I outlined the next twenty!  There's some pretty good ideas in them actually.

I started writing the first book, got through a chapter and realized I liked the next character better than the first one, so I did an outline of her story.  Then I started writing that book.  I did a vast outline that would cover it and a lot more first.

By the time I finished chapter three of that book, I had 40,000 words written and realized that each chapter was much too thin and would be more realistic as their own separate books.  So I started over and wrote a new chapter one using the original first chapter as an outline.

That's when I realized that I had lost all interest.  I knew how the story ended so it wasn't fun anymore.  That's the key right there.  If I know how it ends, it's not fun for me to write.

Outline of an ankylosaure

Starting anew

A few years later, I decided to sit down and write in earnest.  There would be no excuses, no stopping, and nothing would get in the way.  The problem was that I couldn't find my original writing.

So after a few days of cussing and being mad, I started with a new story.  I had no idea how anything was going to turn out.  There was just an image in my mind that intrigued me.  I started by describing that image and going from there.

That book was "Rojuun" and the valley where it begins was the image.  From there I wrote whatever seemed interesting at the time.  Whenever I got stuck, I'd try to make something up and move the characters to a new location.  Lo and behold, I was writing a book.

What began to fascinate me was that I had no clue how it was going to end.  Most of the time I didn't even know what was going to happen next.  I found myself excited to get to the next part and see what would happen.

It wasn't all easy.  There were times when I'd just stare blankly at the screen without a clue as to what would happen.  In addition, my least favorite part of writing is scenes where the characters travel and I had a lot of that in the first trilogy.  The next biggest problem was info dumps.  That's when the author dumps a lot of info about the world, characters, cheese . . . whatever is needed to set up the next scene.  I found myself doing that way more than I would like instead of weaving the info into the story.  Book two has a really bad info dump that lasts a couple of chapters right in the middle.  It drives me a little nuts every time I think about it.

But the three books are finished (as of this writing, book three is in edits)  It was fascinating and fun to take that journey with the characters, never knowing what was going to happen next.  I believe that by not knowing what was going to happen next as I was writing, it will add a little more suspense for the reader too.  In fact, I've had a reader tell me so, which was a complete thrill. :)

Now and in the future

I'm writing my fourth book now.  The original three chapters that were really three stories was in a box in my shed and I've found them.  I very much want to write that story so I've started on it.  However, the story is changing.  I started from a new beginning and have given myself permission to write whatever happens next, even if it is completely different.

I've also given up on outlines completely.  I'm going to pick a starting point and write from there.  Each book will be a journey that I will experience just as the reader does.  You'll never know what's going to happen next because I don't.

I'm really looking forward to it. :D


AL Fetherlin said...

This is true, you can't outline if knowing the end ruins it for you. My fun with that is, the characters never follow my outlines.

I outlined 'Brynn, The Exorcist' and kept going back to it because my writing times were so far apart (due to work, kids, whatever). Each time I sat down to write and opened up the outline, I realized I was nowhere near where the outline said I was supposed to be and had to keep editing the outline.

It was frustrating but I kept doing the outlining because, in the 7 book series, I have two different sets of characters, two different sets of problems, and they all meet up in the last book.

It's just easier to know the basics of what is going on... who is the bad guy, what is supposed to happen... main points... and an idea of how it's going to end. Never does my knowing ever mean that's what's going to happen.

John H. Carroll said...

That's a very good point. I think what I'm doing is more the exception than the rule by far. I have lots of different plans for the world the books are set in (Ryallon) and I write down the ideas as I come up with them.

I like NOT having any idea how it's going to turn out in the moment or who's really a good guy or a bad guy. In some cases, the person I think is going to be a hero may turn out to be a villian, but I don't know yet! :D

There's sort of a realistic thrill in getting inside the character's head, but being ignorant of what's going to happen to them next. I think when I don't know if they character is going to survive, then the reader will be able to feel the suspense.