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"We need to make books cool again. If you go home with someone & they don't have books, don't fuck 'em."--John Waters

I'm the author of more than twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE DEAD LETTERS, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. Look for my next one THE LAST KIND WORDS due out May '12 from Bantam Books. Contact: PicSelf1@aol.com

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fuck Outlining

For all you folks on Facebook who've got me friended, you might want to check my latest UPDATE STATUS and the gentleman's discussion that's arisen from it. I'm not sure if that link will work, but if not, just head over to my page anyhow and read up on the discussion about whether to outline a novel or not. Somehow noted authors Ray Garton and John Passarella have been roped into it, with some further comments by the one and only Trey R. Barker too.

I hate outlining (in case you didn't get that from the FUCK OUTLINING title of this post). I find the process of writing to be more organic. I need to dive in and find the story as I actually make my way through the material. I've never quite understood folks who outline beforehand--whether it's a two page or ten page or, as in one case I recall when I was a first reader at an SF publishing house, a 180 page outline. I don't fully understand how you can know what the story is about before you actually write it. How do you know what your characters will do when you don't really know who the characters are? Where does the emotional context come in? Where is your personal surprise and discovery?

What do the rest of you kids think?

14 comments:

Bill Crider said...

I've published 60 or 70 novels (hey, who's counting?), and I've outlined only a couple. It just doesn't work for me. Sometimes I wish it did.

Jacob Weaver said...

I've just started writing and I'm grappling with this very problem. I'm finding just sitting down and letting it all flow is great but I'll need to do some serious rewriting. Most of that is probably my inexperience but I think a basic character outline would have cut down on some of it.

From my limited experience I'd say writers that outline are trying to cut corners on rewriting. I don't know that there is anything wrong with it, but it may take some of the excitement of discovery out of the process. Just my two cents.

Ed Gorman said...

Evan Hunter/Ed McBain told me in an interview that what he frequently did was get forty, fifty pages into it so that he knew the characters and the milieu and then he's start scratching out four or five chapters ahead. I hate outlining and am terrible at it.

Keith Rawson said...

I can't do it. When I'm writing something that I've out lined it never works. The words seem forced and lack any real passion. And so what if you have to revise further once the original draft is done? (Yes I just looked through the ridiculous number of posts on your facebook page.) chances are the outline is going to change a long with the book as you re-write.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

I was asked to write an outline of my novel a couple years ago and I hated every fucking minute of the task. It felt so artificial. I threw the thing in the trash. Now that I'm teaching, I have students ask me about outlining. I tell them if it works for them, fine, but it's too restricting for me. I like that you used the word "organic" to describe your writing process; it's the same word I use over and over in my class.

ronnoc said...

I don't write, but fuck outlining. It requires you to think ahead-wheres the fun in that? Writing off of a outline sounds boring to me.

ronnoc said...

Where's the apostrophe in that^^ ?

Victor Gischler said...

It's like you're reading my mind. Fuck outlining. Fuck it hard.

VG

Tom Piccirilli said...

Right in the eyes!

ttzuma said...

Brillant/creative writers don't need to outline. Most of the time when someone outlines, you can see the ending a mile away.

An example of brilliant/creative writing is The Coldest Mile. To write that story with the plot twists you did, without outlining, proves you not only are one of the more entertaining authors on the planet, you just may be the most talented. Unless of course you really do have superpowers.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I just write stories but I can't even think about a story consciously until I sit in front of the computer. If I try to think about it, it seems stale when I write it. I guess this can only work well in short pieces though.

Paul Brazill said...

I write like I wrote songs. Nice riff, nice chords, nice title -let's see what I can do with this... I outlined one story recently and it stank!

Jamie Eyberg said...

I only need to know where it is going. How to get there is something that the story will take care of for me.

Dave Lounsbury said...

I hate outlining and it's a relief to see so many other people struggle with it.
However, I'm constantly outlining in my head. I usually do a few weeks of 'mental outlining' before I even start. I'm usually outlining my next piece while I'm writing the current one.