Friday, November 27, 2009

Oh no! The plot makes no sense!

To plot, or not to plot, that is the question. Whatever your experience with writing, you fall into one of two categories: Those who outline their stories, or those who say “To Hell with outlines!” There is no middle ground.

Which option is better? Each side has their defenders. Among the authors I respect, Stephen King hates the idea of outlines, while Terry Brooks is a firm believer in sitting down for a few days and sketching out the major points of the story. King says you should just write and let the story tell itself. Brooks responded that not everyone (including him) is Stephen King, therefore it won’t work for everyone.

Brooks is an interesting case because his first novel, The Sword of Shannara, was not plotted. He did the same thing for his next story, but it was so terrible (according to him) that he shelved it and switched to outlines forever. The result was The Elfstones of Shannara, a book many people consider his best. (Personally, I like a lot of his books better than Elfstones, but I digress.)

I think one thing to keep in mind is how much you write. If you write 2000 words a day, every day, then you’ll be finished your first draft within three months, give or take a few weeks. Your story will be fresh in your mind, and you will be so immersed in the work that you’ll have a really good idea of what’s working in the manuscript and what stinks. If—like a certain knavish blogger—you only write in fits and starts, then the feel of your story will escape you because you are not always writing. An outline could be your saving grace.

I’m still trying to fight the good fight for the No Outline team, but I’m starting to wonder if Brooks wasn’t right about King. (Interesting note: Stephen King claims the only days he doesn’t write are Christmas and his birthday. He’s lying. He writes on those days, too.) Both have published amusing and informative memoirs. I wrote about King’s On Writing in my last post. Brooks’s book is called Sometimes the Magic Works.


mel said...

do you write in a linear fashion? or do you know the ending already? i think that would decide whether or not i'd use an outline.
i can't say i've ever written a novel, but from my essay and script writing days, my best work was always that with an outline. it kept me focused, and i found it easier to write if i knew where it was headed next...

Errant Knave said...

Linear. Usually. For my big story, I know what the ending will be like, but it's a vague idea. It's changed from time to time. That's one thing I have against outlines; they don't seem as flexible when it comes to revising endings. But I still think I'll try one for my next story.

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