I know some people who outline their entire novel before jumping in to the writing phase. And I know others who outline each chapter along the way.
So, here’s my question: is it wrong that I do most of my outlining in my head?
A girl in one of my classes in graduate school once brought a binder to class that contained years of work she did on an outline for a novel. That’s right. Years. On an outline. She had diagrams and pictures and descriptions and character analyses. It was very intimidating.
At the time, I was into the short story and convinced that I could never attack the novel. After seeing her binder, I was even more afraid to “go longer”. It seemed to me that she was wasting her time planning when she could be writing the thing, but what did I know? I wasn’t a novelist.
Looking back, I still think that her planning was inhibiting her progress, but I see why she needed some organization. She was creating another dimension, and she needed to make sense of the alternate universe that was swimming around her brain.
In my experience, I find that I have little luck with outlines when writing. I mean, I don’t go into a project blind, but every time I think I know where I am going, the characters take over mid-way, forcing me to change course. Over time, I have learned to go with wherever this takes me, which means that spending too much time on an outline would be rather futile. It’s all bound to change once I get going anyway.
I often wonder how true this is for other writers. I know what I want to do in each chapter when I begin it, but I am also open to surprises. Unlike almost every other part of my life, in my writing life, I don’t worry too much about forcing the action. My characters always lead me to a better place than the one I was headed, anyway.
Then again, the danger in not having a plan is that I could end up writing the same novel for years and never get to the ending, or worse, the climax, so I do have to be careful.
Last night, I finished chapter two and attempted to begin chapter three, but it wasn’t coming right away. Part of this is due to sleepiness, and the other part is due to reservations I’m having about where I want to take a confrontation between two of the characters. It has to happen, but I’m not sure when or how. I’m hoping that a few hours away from it and some thinking will help get me there. Or maybe, I just need to listen to them better. Then again, maybe I just need extra sleep.
Do you plot out your stories/novels, or do you dive in and let the characters take you where you need to go?