Something of an Introduction
I’d like to talk about P.O.O. today.
Not that poo.
My P.O.O.—the Process of Outlining.
I know you thought I was going elsewhere with this, and perhaps several years ago I would have, because I’d have been an immature college student trying to distract myself from complete and utter finals weekend madness.
But I am not that person anymore. Now I’m a semi-functioning adult with two jobs, some semblance of a writing career (okay, it’s a kernel at this point), a slight head tick, and a whole lot of story ideas. The latter of that list, though, is where the focus of this post lies.
I am of the breed of writers who like discovery and architectural writing. For those not familiar with the term, a discovery writer is one who does not (necessarily) work with an outline; instead they simply write and let the story go wherever it goes. An architect is a writer who outlines extensively beforehand. I have done both and I enjoy both, which is why my process is a healthy dose of both.
Every writer has their own opinions and thoughts on these two types, and I’m going to more or less go into my outlining (and writing) processes for both of these (because even though discovery writing is just that, I sometimes need a place to store my thoughts).
Pros and Cons
As with anything, discovery and architectural writing have their pros and cons. For me personally, I love discovery writing when it comes to working with a small idea, to let it blossom like a flower, so to speak (note: discovery writers are like gardeners, growing their stories from seeds [poor summarization of something George R. R. Martin once said]). It’s exciting to me, because though I have a general idea of the plot, I don’t really have anything between the start and conclusion planned out. I tend to just write what I think fits with that story and its world; I write what I enjoy.
With something longer than a short story or novelette, though, it becomes a little difficult for me to discover the world as I go along. I don’t think I could write a novel without first extensively outlining. I write fantasy about 90% of the time, and not having a part-by-part outline for a novel would drive me nuts. There are scenes that I more or less write without necessarily planning them, but having an outline gives me a sense of direction, whereas simple discovery writing does not.
As an architectural writer, my favorite aspect of outlining is not creating the plot (though that does, indeed, excite me a whole bunch) but rather the world itself. It’s fun to make up names and religions and magic and then see how I can make it all work together in the end without it feeling forced. Outlining gives me a sense of direction with my stories, like I said above, a line to follow.
A line to deviate from when necessary, because sticking to an outline religiously, I believe, can take away from a story. I’ve run into problems with my own outlines, where something seemed so perfect to start, and then once I actually got to that instance in the book, I find myself glaring at my outline and cursing repeatedly under my breath as I spend the next several hours and days trying to fix that little problem, which in turn spawns further continuity issues.
I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that it’s okay to wander when you’re writing. Outlines are just that, and they are not carved irreversibly into stone. Outlines are meant to guide, and even with a guide, it’s okay to go exploring every once in a while. It’s like walking through the super market, looking for that store brand box of crackers that you sort of like, and turning one aisle early and discovering that there’s now a tequila flavored beer you never knew existed, and it’s great because you love beer and tequila and the two things together is just dandy.
That’s a really stupid analogy, but you get my point. Sometimes one wrong turn becomes extremely right, and then you find yourself deviating more and more as time goes on.
And I seem to have forgotten all about my P.O.O.— the reason for this post.
Briefly, my outlines consist of the following:
-A general outline of the plot (This is happening, this is so-and-so, and this is what so-and so-needs to do)
-A brief paragraph with some bullet points regarding characters, religion, setting, and magic (this last part I try to make as comprehendible and as simple as possible because I’m no Brandon Sanderson)
-A project journal, because if you refuse to construct an outline, even in its most basic form, having a place to at least take notes and write your thoughts on the story as it grows is very important (no one likes getting confused by their own plot…)
That’s it for the most part. I used this P.O.O. for The Forger; I more or less did the same thing for my novelette, Temperance; and I’m the story I’m writing now, The Walker and the Doe, is about 30% outline and 70% making shit up for the fun of it (and it is fun!).
I love both discovery and architectural writing, and as with anything, it comes down to preference and fit.
Just like beer, because there are certain beers that will greatly lengthen your P.O.O.
Not this P.O.O.
Yeah. That happened.