Tuesday, October 26, 2010

To Outline or Not?

I spent eight months outlining and researching the novel before I begin to write
a single word of prose. —Jeffrey Deaver

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in
the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say. —Sharon O'Brien

Margaret McGaffey Fisk writes online that outlining helped drop her novel-writing time
from seven years to two months. On the other hand, mystery writer J. A. Janz doesn’t outline
her novels—she writes to find out what happens. So what’s best? Both have advantages.

Detailed outlining gives you a road map for writing. The detailed outline includes everything
you need to write the book—what happens, who it involves, when it happens, and where
the action takes place. The detailed outline might also include character studies and snippets
of dialogue.

Skeleton outlining gives you the broad strokes of plot or contents. You may not know everything
about what will happen to the characters but you do know where they start, how it ends up, and
the general movements they take to get from beginning to end. If you’re a nonfiction writer, you
might know the chapter topics—but not have a detailed outline for each chapter.

I call the third method, “flying by the seat of your pants.” In this process, you start with a few
interesting characters and a problem. Then you write your way into a story.

And here is my sage advice: no one can tell you which way is best. None are best for everyone.
But one is best for you. Do what works.

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