Saturday, March 5, 2011

On the Outs With Outlining

Whenever I start on a new a story I always feel like the first thing I should do is write up an outline. The only problem is that even though I feel like I should do it I don’t actually want to do it. As far as I can tell both my hatred of outlining and my compulsion to do it are holdovers from being home schooled in a program where every paper that was submitted had to include a full outline chronicling every detail included in the paper.

Without thinking I tend to find myself starting an outline in the meticulous I. A. 1. a. i. fashion that Calvert hammered into my brain. Then, every time, about half way through outlining the prologue it occurs to me that it’ll probably take me about as long to write an outline for the story as it would to actually write the story. It one thing to outline a 10 page paper like this, but it’s a whole other thing to outline a 150+ page story like this. So after realizing this for the umpteenth time I abandon the outline and just dive into the story with a wish and a prayer.

So far, everything I’ve written like this I’ve gotten through, but it always feels like I’m missing something by not outlining. Like maybe my stories wouldn’t be as fragmented or I wouldn’t have to do as much editing if I just took the time to map out the story before starting. Only, I don’t have the time or patience to write what’ll end up being a 50 page outline.

In an attempt to reconcile what I feel I should do with that I want to do I’ve been experimenting with some different types of outlining. I’ve tried writing plot points on note cards and pinning them to the wall, finding pictures to represent each chapter, and using different colored paints to show the basic plot line and character interactions. The pictures and paints were lots of fun and somewhat productive. The note cards not so much of either. But I guess I’m too much a traditionalist for any of those methods to really work for me.

Recently, I read about an outlining method where you just write the top two or three plot points in each chapter, and at the moment I’m trying that. So far it seems to be working well and I’m really enjoying it. It’s traditional enough that it satisfies that need, but I don’t feel the need to map out every last thing that’s happening in the story.

However, all outlining feels like a good fit when I first start out, but only time will tell if it actually works for me. If it doesn't then it's back to the drawing board for me.

- Aaron

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