Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Zette's Take: Outlines aren't creative?


     I was told something interesting today: People who use outlines are not creative in their writing.

I looked at the line for a few minutes before I finally asked the most obvious question.

Where do you think outlines come from if not creativity?

This the problem with authors who decide at some point that their way is the only way to write. They not only stop seeing possibilities for themselves, but they also stop considering how others might work differently and still do as well.

Do I really need to say this? Outlines are creative. They are the essence of a story, worked out in great or small detail, so the path from start to finish makes sense for the writer (and the reader, for that matter). They are not the book with the story complete, and all the wonderful little touches that make the characters come alive and the tale exciting. They are not set in stone and I have yet to work all the way through an outline without having a number of changes along the way. However, I am not stopped, time and again, by 'what happens next' or 'that doesn't work with what I had before, I need to make drastic changes' problems. I have (as I have often said) the road map worked out, but I don't know everything my characters will see and do, or what interesting detours and side trips might show up as the true details of the story unveil themselves.

The only real difference between pantsing and outlining is the amount of detail worked into the 'first draft' of the work. An outline is a very brief first draft of the overall story. It requires just as much imagination and creativity to work out as any other form of story writing.

Working out the major events or themes or whatever else you add into the outline does not limit your creativity; it only gives it a focus for the story you are already imagining. This also means you are committing to tell a specific story, and not the new one that kind of resembles it. That's a different story; write this one first.

Some lose interest in writing a story if they work it out, which makes outlines impossible for them to use. For others, the outline is the barest glimpse at a story they want to know far better and to share with others.


I have done, and will continue to do, both. I tend to pants shorter work, but I do the same with novels on occasion, too. I love writing outlines, though, with the fun ride through the basics of the story and then the rush of greater creativity with all the basic problems worked out and the ability to fly.

Whatever your system, keep two things in mind:

1. What works best for you will not work for everyone.

2. Never be afraid to try something new and experiment.

Find what works for you -- but never assume it is the only answer!

4 comments:

Catana/Sylvie Mac said...

Something I've noticed on the NaNo forums, after November and the camps, is the number of complaints about editing. What these people are winding up with is a disorganized mess that's almost impossible to pull together into a coherent story. I'm willing to bet that most of them are pantsers who believe that going in with just the barest idea of a story is the only way to be creative. Granted, many are first-timers and maybe just in it for the fun, but the idea that outlines are uncreative is too widespread.

I'm preparing for November, but also starting to work out a novel for *next* year. It's going to be much more complex than anything I've written before, and I know that without Scrivener and the phase outline method, I wouldn't have a bat's chance of carrying it to completion.

GC said...

One would think the opposite or think that these people would be open to trying new things.
Isn’t that part of being creative, accepting that they are different ways to produce or develop ones craft, and learn from the experience?

Catana/Sylvie Mac said...

At the risk of sounding snarky or (gasp) elitist, most aren't creative. They've been told so many times that everyone is creative, that everyone has a book in them, that they truly believe it. Read some of the threads on the forums and you'll see that the vast majority of books being written for NaNo are either fan fiction or inspired by TV, movies, video games or (more rarely) by popular books. Yes, I know that these can be the inspiration for a writing career, and NaNo is all about writing whatever and however you can. But the truth is that good writers are as rare as good artists, and true creativity is extremely rare. So it's natural that these fledgling writers are going to swallow whatever they're told without giving it any further thought.

I'm afraid that turned into a bit of a rant.

Zette said...

For at least the first decade or so of NaNo, the majority of the people taking part have never written a novel before they leap in for November. Most of them have never completed more than a school paper at best.

They throw themselves into writing a large number of words without even thinking how they are going to be writing every single day. The amount of angst in some of the threads will doom them to failure before they even begin, too.

I don't think it's so much being told 'everyone has a novel in them' as being told writing is easy. Anyone can put words down the screen, right? So what's the big deal?

I'm actually glad many of them are coming to learn how difficult the act of writing really is and maybe to appreciate the work people go through to write the stories they enjoy.