Outlines and Inspirations

HAPPY PECULIAR PEOPLE DAY!  Yes, today, January 10th, is the annual celebration of the peculiar people in your life!  (If you’re like me, then this is the perfect excuse to dress in as many insane, non-matching articles of clothing as possible.)  Hope all of you have a wonderfully peculiar day!

Okay, back to the serious writing stuff.  Like outlines and such.  ^_^

There seem to be two major “schools” of the writing process:  those who outline and those who don’t.  I’ve heard the arguments for and against both sides of this amiable conflict.  Outliners like the sense of direction and control that outlining gives them, establishing a sense of order and importance to the story and combating the dreaded writers block.  Free-writers like the sense of mystery, evolution, and surprise that comes from just sitting down to write with nothing more than a general idea.  They like the spontaneity, the twists and turns in both plot and character that take them places they didn’t expect.  Outliners accuse free-writers of being too flighty, spending time on areas that may be fun but aren’t conducive to the plot which wastes time or sitting staring at a blank screen because they’ve written themselves into a corner.  Free-writers claim that outliners are too stuffy and rigid, suffocating their stories with the weight of outlines and predetermined outcomes that lack true originality.

When I was younger, I considered myself a free-writer.  I wrote when inspiration struck me, and when a story idea hit me, sat down and started writing.  I had no plans, only a general sense of what I kinda sorta wanted…and let things develop.  Outlines were reserved for school papers, which were no fun to write under the best of circumstances.  Unfortunately, inspiration came to me less and less and most of the stories I started without a plan puttered out halfway through.  I ran out of ideas, didn’t know where to do next, or wrote myself into a corner.  I would build drama without having any idea how to top it with a decent payoff.  (That is why so many of my fanfics sit unfinished; I didn’t know where I was going and once I was done watching the anime or reading the manga, I lost interest.)

After taking a class on screenwriting in college, I switched to being more of an outline writer.  Screenwriting is, by its very nature, very tight and streamlined.  You can’t go on long tangents in a movie script because filming it is so very expensive, so everything you write must be necessary to move the story and characters along.  (At least, the good movies do this.)  The best way to do this is to have an outline of the story so you know what needs to happen when and where and to whom.  (It’s also very nice for foreshadowing.  If you know what is going to happen, you can plant subtle clues early on in the story!)  Since inspiration doesn’t visit me as often as it used to, I’ve had to help it along a little by providing lists of scenes that need to be written based on the outline of the story.

My idea of an “outline” isn’t really the “Roman Numeral I, followed by points A, B, and C with the subcategories of 1, 2, and 3” format you see in school.  My outlines are more like very long rambling summaries.  My “outline” for Ravens and Roses is 10 pages long, single-spaced.  I do not go into events or character development in depth, just mention what is going on and then move along.  I’m basically writing a big long letter to myself about what is going on in the story.  I also like making a timeline so that I know when events occur and if I am leaving reasonable spans of time between events or if something is taking too long to happen.  For example, Ryn and Erasmus travel across the land of Marina over the course of the story, and originally it took them at least a few weeks, if not months to cross it one way, but then, coming back to Landfall, I had them taking only a few days.  Which…made no sense.  But, if I hadn’t made a timeline and an outline, I might not have come across that particular anomaly for some time.

I don’t like being too attached to an outline, but I can’t deny that it is very useful in pointing out inconsistencies, areas that need attention or make no sense, and allows (me, at least) to focus my attention on what needs to be written so I don’t get sidetracked.  I think that you must be open to possibilities that your mind and characters may create, but you should still have an overall plan.  It’s very helpful in cutting down on wasted time and to set goals for yourself.  But remember, if you get the urge to write a scene, go ahead and write it!  You never know when it might become useful, so follow inspiration when it strikes.  But don’t get so wrapped up that you forget where you were going in the first place!  Balance in all things, but in writing especially.

So, which way do you prefer?  Outlining?  Free-writing?  Or some unique mixture of the two?

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