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Writing by outline – and by gut.

July 18, 2011

I went to OryCon in Portland a year and a half ago to meet author Patricia Briggs and to go to writers’ panels. If you haven’t read
Moon Called
, Blood Bound, Iron Kissed, Bone Crossed, Silver Borne, Water Marked and any other titles I may be forgetting in the Mercy Thompson series, and if you enjoy paranormal/werewolf stories, please go find her books immediately. They’re fabulous! So I went there to get my copies signed, you see. It was a lovely trip. I saw Creede Lombard there (a dear old gentleman in his 70s, with enormous white Leg-o-mutton whiskers) – my character Creede is named for him – and got to stay with my niece and her husband. A good time, definitely.

Before I went there, I had never heard of two main “schools” of writers, the “outliners” and the “pantsers”. Outliners write very rigid outlines and stick to them: (“My characters ALWAYS do what I tell them to do!” said one). Panters fly by the seats of their pants. Of course, most writers probably fall on some point on the continuum between these extremes. Side note: J.K. Rowling is apparently something of a pantser. She’s been quoted as saying she has no idea what her characters are going to do until they do it. I can understand that! I’m a Pantser too. I’ve never been good at outlines. I wasn’t good at them in school, and I’m still not good at them. I see how they’re useful, though, because you can paint yourself into a corner when writing by the seat of your pants, and have no idea how to get out. Or, you know how you want things to resolve, so you make them resolve NOW. Yes, there could be 50 or 100 pages of steps in between where you are, and the final resolution – but without an outline, it’s hard to know where to put your feet.

I’m working on book 6. I can feel that things aren’t right, mainly because there are two very independent plots running along in parallel, and they need to come together at the end. Somehow. Over the weekend, I’ve been running any number of possible scenarios through my head, discarding them one after the other. Too trite, too far-fetched, too pointless, too contrived, and let’s don’t forget my favorite trick, too Deus Ex Machina. Conversely, I can also feel when things are right. When I get something that ‘clicks’ inside my head – one of those ‘Ah ha!’ moments – I go quick to my outline (such as it is) and jot down the bullet points. Those are the steps I have to follow. Exactly how I get from one to the next remains to be seen. Usually, filler scenes suggest themeslves: I need to explain this, that needs to happen, they need to have a talk, so-and-so hasn’t been heard from reently. It’s worked well for me so far. I’m trusting my gut.

But I’m still making an outline. 🙂


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