Friday, March 6, 2009


Outlining a novel. Put any two novelists together, bring up that subject and you're likely to start an argument.

Personally, I'm firmly in the non-outlining camp. I tried outlining which led to a horrible, stinking novel that got firmly trunked. It just didn't work for me which is what I judge techniques by. It can work for everyone else in the world, but if it doesn't work for me, I don't do it.

It's no secret, since he said so in his marvelous On Writing, that Stephen King doesn't outline. There are plenty of others in our side of the divide so don't feel like you have to if you don't. On the other hand, if you've never tired outlining, you might want to try it. I think we can't know what works for us or what doesn't until we try.

I'll be happy to admit there are plenty of good writers who do. David Farland in his excellent email blog "Kick in the Pants" talks frequently about outlining and how to do it. (I stick my fingers in my ears and say, "Neener, neener. . . I can't hear you.")

The other day Dave shared a wonderful article that I want to link because it's a technique that is "outline-ish" without quite being outlining that I'm going to try on some short stories. Maybe this will work for me when outlining doesn't.

They refer to it as "sketching" kind of the way an artist might do a preliminary sketch. It's definitely an article worth reading.


J. M. Strother said...

I saw that piece on "sketching" a novel just a few minutes ago. Looks pretty interesting. Bookmarked it on Delicious so I can remember how to get to it again.

As far as outlining goes, sometimes I do, sometimes I don't, but tend to more and more lately. I sort of outline "on the fly," meaning that I have a very loose outline, and then fill in more details on each chapter as I am about to begin them. It's just text at the bottom of the piece that keeps getting pushed forward as I type. I've been finding that useful.

Jeanne Tomlin said...

Jon, I'm going to try the method they suggest on my next novel. I think what I tried before wasn't open ended enough if that makes any sense. :)

KjM said...

Interesting link Jeanne, thanks for the pointer. I do not outline, there is a real risk I will get bored with the whole story if I know the detailed "shape" of it.

But this technique might just be "loose" enough to help a story of mine, while maintaining my own interest.

Good luck in your own application of it.

E. F. Collins said...

Jeanne, thanks for this. I myself don't outline either, the one book I have outlined has three and a quarter glorious chapters that will go nowhere. I usually just sit down and write. I take notes about my story if I'm thinking about it somewhere where I can't write on it, but that's it. It's nice to know others have this same quirk, because as you said, a lot swear by their outlines.

Jeanne Tomlin said...

I am willing even eager to try new techniques, but risking the work on entire novel just seems like to big a cliff to jump off. I wouldn't mind if I knew a LITTLE more about my novels when I start though. Although, I don't know. Is being surprised by where it goes such a bad thing?

I'm still going to try the "sketch" thing on my next short story. I meant to on the one I'm working on now and didn't remember until I was half done. *grin*

Eric said...

Outlining... just thinking about it makes me cringe. The process smacks too much of dull school papers for something as creative as fiction. I did try it, once, but though well-formed, the manuscript was a lifeless sack. There was no joy in the telling, and that showed.

That said, there is something to be said of planning. I just prefer Card's "What If-And Then What Happens" approach. Freestyling.