Monday, April 27, 2009

There is a Madness to My Method

I've never been good at making a detailed outline. I've always preferred to throw myself out there, writing four or five chapters until I get stuck. Then I decide what I'm writing about and where I'm going, make a sketchy outline, and keep plowing through the story.

This method gets me into trouble--on many levels. The main trouble is that the story and the characters keep changing. By the time I reach the last chapter, most of the previous chapters need heavy revision, if not complete re-writes. Usually, as I'm writing forward, I'm at the same time going back to revise. I may be writing chapter 19 and revising chapter 10.

It was working fine for a while, but now it's getting confusing. I'm so involved in the story, working on it so much, that I have no perspective. I forget all the things I've changed, what each character knows and doesn't know.

I've been getting a lot of critiques lately that go something like this: "Um, wouldn't she be scared/surprised/angry/sad to find this out?" Oh, yeah (hand smacks forehead), I cut that scene and forgot to change the rest accordingly. I feel like I'm trying to force these puzzle pieces together; but some of them have rounded edges and some square.

I am beginning to see the wisdom of a detailed outline. But oh, I hate the idea of doing it. Part of what I love about writing a first draft is the constant sense of discovery. There are surprises everywhere--about the plot, the characters, the themes. The very thought of having a detailed outline makes me not want to write. (I am one of those people prone to staring out the window thinking and calling it writing. If I think too much, I don't write.)

I suppose every writer has this to some extent, hence the common recommendation to put the finished manuscript in a drawer for a month so you can revisit it with fresh eyes. I don't think I'm at that point yet (the first two chapters need to be completely re-written), but I'm getting there.

All I really wanted to say is that I'm discovering a part of my process that doesn't work as well as I thought. I'm overwhelmed by all the little details I have to align. But then, I can't imagine figuring out the story any other way than through the process of writing.

Any thoughts on process?

More coming on the benefits of this method...

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Good question, Lisa! I've been playing with my MS for so long (well before I knew what I was doing) that I've no idea how to outline from the start.

I don't know if I could outline before I wrote anything at all, but I know now I'd need to outline pretty soon afterwards.