The road to publishing a novel is long and winding, even if you crank ’em out at a relatively fast clip (J.K. Rowling) or an even faster one (Stephen King). Along that long road writers have to make many decisions–characters, conflict, choices, changes, setting, point of view, tense, style, language, voice, blah, blah, blah. In other words, how the *%#@&$ do I come up with a great story, and how do I write it?
For many writers, one decision that happens early in the process is whether to outline or not. For others it isn’t a decision. They have a fixed philosophy, and they’re either firmly for it or against it. Consistently. Always. Come hell or high water. They do it or they don’t and they’re not open to options.
Avi, who has had a long and successful career writing kidlit, is in the no-outline camp. He is reported to have said, “No surprises for the writer, no surprises for the reader.” I once heard Earl Emerson (adult mysteries) speak about outlining, and he had an opposite message: He wrote twelve novels, all unpublished, before someone suggested he try outlining the thirteenth. He did. It was published. As were a lengthy string of other novels in the Thomas Black series.
But those who haven’t fallen in love with a particular outline/no outline approach have that decision. Me? I’ve done both. At first, mostly because I didn’t consider the possibility, I was a no-outliner. The outlines of my first three or four stories were in my head. It worked. I sold the stories. But the writing often seemed like more struggle than it had to be. Then I decided to give outlining a try. That worked, too, and I came to favor it. My revised process included writing a scene outline (a short paragraph describing what occurs in each scene, beginning to end) before I began on the the actual manuscript.
I’m starting on a new story, and I’m not sure what my approach will be. The tale is taking shape, and I’ve got a synopsis down in writing, but it’s kind of a wild premise and I’m feeling as if I want to let it go and see where it takes me. So far I’ve got a couple of chapters written (roughly), but no outline, and maybe it will stay that way.
You? What’s your approach? Seat of the pants? Tightly choreographed dance? They both can work. What doesn’t work is “thinking” about it. There’s nothing wrong with getting started and then adjusting. Choose a path and get rolling.