The Outline Outrage...

 

Pros and Cons, this side and that. 
There is a permanent solution to this endless debate but nary a writer nor an editor is able to listen to said  for the debate din...not to mention the torches and pitchforks.

The short answer: both are correct...if appropriately mixed.

The long explanation: thus...

The creative and analytical side of the brain are not enemies of each other...but it's true that they rarely converse. It's like that neighbour you have next door...as long as he keeps his grass cut and the BBQ parties over by midnight, you wave, he waves, you both go inside your abodes and roll your eyes at one another.

Pantsers and Plotters...they can attend the same writers conference, belong to the same writers groups, drinks out of the same font of love for this craft but each thinks the other has two heads, both of which are on the fritz.

Plotting and pantsering, by themselves, can both be a recipe for literary disaster.

The Plotter will over-plan, leaving the prose oftentimes stilted, bereft of that magical mix of whimsy that can only come from relaxing one's mind and allowing the creative juices to flow as he types with abandon.

The Pantser will under-plan, leaving the prose disjointed, plot-lines mysteriously dropped, characters one dimensional, resulting in months, weeks, nay I utter YEARS worth of red pen editing and revision. Rinse and repeat.

Rather, literary success is the marriage of the two, and although there are as many ways to outline and there are excuses to not, it's first the laying out of scenes that is beyond crucial, but allowing room for the Unknown to colour that scene.

And this type of Success Story is so extremely easy to craft! You can substitute my process below for whatever medium you choose but the creative, focused and productive outcome will be the same:

I have written three full length novels, am beginning my fourth, and this method has never let me down in terms of the creative freedom it allows and the plot/character structuring that is needed in a long work.

I go to any dollar store and buy out the shelf of their recipe cards. I then head to Staples and buy a handful of Sharpies - black, red and a few multi-coloured to complete the job.

Each Scene card
is coded with a black sharpie. Info Cards are coded thus:

  • Red for important points missed that must be inserted into the prose at a later date; 
  • Blue for backstory/background info on the locale, point-form character motivations within that scene (gleaned from their character sketches), 
  •  Green for any researched scientific/ historical/facts-based information to authenticate my tale.


I label Scene numbers in pencil placed on that black line in the above photo, so their order can be altered at any time, and I attach each scene's relevant colour-coded Info cards to the Scene Card.

Once entire story plot is outlined on the cards, they are piled in order. I take the top card, type out that scene, flip that card over, and repeat until I hit the card labelled "The End". the physical cards vs. such "cards" available on writing programmes like Scrivener is that I do not have to be tethered to a computer to write out a scene. I can take a card on the Go and write anywhere, anyhow at anytime...no plug in required!

Upon each Scene card is maybe, at most, a few point-formed sentences, describing what is to happen and who it happens to, the motivations/results needed to be achieved, and where/when it takes place. The scenes additional info is added via those attached colour-coded Info cards.

That is a bare bones outline which keeps my plot in line, assures well-rounded characters, assures no dropped nor disappearing anything BUT allows for creative freedom within the writing of that scene. In effect, my mind's eye and way with words takes those cards and with them as a sturdy guidepost weaves a wondrous tale onto the page.

It's the meeting of two minds, not dissimilar to Science vs. Faith, political Left vs. Right, Artist vs. Inventor. As in all earthly things, writing not excluded, compromise, moderation is the key.

Over the years as an editor, I have dealt with many Pantsers (all new writers, all fearful of outlines, all determined to defend their process), yet 100% have fought or failed or abandoned their works or have spent 4 times the effort as a Plotter in editing, rewriting, revising, to the point that what passion had been injected into the tale has now be obliterated, the over-editing murdering the creativity.

And in as many years, I have worked with anal-retentive Plotters, who plan every second of their story to the point that it reads more like an academic paper that an evocative work of art.

Neither is well done.
Neither is entertaining.
Both demand a hell of a lot of work to correct.
And All, if not corrected, get thrown into the bin by agents and publishers.

If both Pantsers and Plotters would put down their torches and pitchforks long enough to consider both sides' qualities and pitfalls, a marriage of the minds could be had. The result: literary heaven. Less dropped plot-lines, less one-sided characterizations, less stilted prose and more passion the by-products.

Your comments/questions encouraged, but please, check your torches and pitchforks at the door....

Comments

  1. That's some great advice!!!!!!! Thx MsB!

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    Replies
    1. You're very welcome, Christianne, and thank you for dropping by!

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  2. It's sounds like a good system. I personally like graph paper for making my outlines, because I can make as many or as little points on a scene as I want. And, I can doodle in the blank spaces.

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  3. Hi, D.M., nice to talk with you! Yes, any medium can work. It's the marriage between panstering and plotting that's the key. Your systems sounds great...especially the doodle option! LOL

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Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts, ideas, questions. I welcome all feedback! Regards, B.J. Thompson