Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,
Inverarity
inverarity

Never Believe Your Lying Outline

I'm reading several books right now, but probably won't finish them until next week or so.

Well, for those of you who don't come for the book reviews, but are hoping for Alexandra Quick tidbits, I have no books to review (though I've got a couple more self-pubbed ebooks to snark about), so this is another of my long rambly self-indulgent author's posts.

I'm on chapter three of AQATSA right now. Yes, it's been slow going, with me working on it off and on, but I've picked up the pace a bit lately. I am having some of the same problems I had with AQATDR (namely, trying to work out plot holes, and making certain events fit into the story in a plausible, organic way), but they are coming earlier than they did in the previous book. Also, this being the fourth book, there is less that I can "punt" to be explained later in the series, and I have to be more careful that I don't write myself into a corner.

I do have some evil ideas which are even eviler than my original ideas.


Spend a little time on writing forums or reading books about writing, and you'll learn that the "outline or no outline?" debate is right up there with "literary vs. genre fiction" for eliciting impassioned arguments to a question that has no right answer. Some writers outline meticulously before they begin writing, and already know every key event in their book right up to the ending before they type the first sentence. I really envy them. Other writers just wing it all the way through. Stephen King apparently does this -- he starts out with a vague idea and lets his characters tell him what happens next.

I'm somewhere in between. I try to outline, but what I really have written down before I write a book is a list of important events and plot twists, and how I want it to end, and other random details. The rest is stuff that I cannot, no matter how much time I spend thinking about it, work out in my head until I get there. By which time many events on my list have been added, deleted, or completely changed.

This is actually one of the things that slows my writing down. Because two oppositional phenomena are at work here:

1. When I have hit an obstacle -- a plot hole, or a difficulty in making something happen that I want to happen -- I tend to stop writing while I try to work it out in my head. And sometimes I spin my mental wheels for days with no resolution, until I sit down again and start writing.

2. If I do sit down and start writing, even if I still have a mess in front of me and in my head, I start with a sentence, and come up with another, and pretty soon I've managed to work my way through it, or at least added another ten pages to the story. Sometimes it's all crap and the plot hole is still there and I'll have to go back and rewrite, but at least I've made forward progress, and things tend to work themselves out eventually.

So, the lesson here is that I should just keep writing and not spend so much time trying to plan what I will write, but being an obsessive plotter, I just can't make myself comfortable with, "Oh, I'll just start writing and see what happens next."

Also, I have recently learned to my amazement that most writers just plow ahead all the way to the end without doing much rewriting of their story. Oh, sure, they'll go back and fix details, change names, add foreshadowing, occasionally pull a section forward or move one back as later parts of the book resolve themselves, but for the most part, they do not open their document and reread chapter one and rewrite several paragraphs, then move on to chapter two and realize that some of it needs to be rewritten and do so, and so on until they get to their current ending point, whereupon they've spent much of that day's writing time rewriting and not actually adding a new chapter. No, they manage to actually finish the book and then start revising!

Believe it or not, that was quite a revelation to me. The idea of just... writing the whole thing, messy as it is, even when I know there's stuff earlier in the book that needs to be fixed feels to me like building a house knowing that the foundation is crooked but saying, "Oh, don't worry about it, once we're done we'll go back and fix that."

I know that analogy is not sound, and if I can break my persistent rewriting habit I'll probably get a lot more done a lot faster. I'm working on it.

(Although what would really help me write more would be if I were given a computer with no Internet access. No, don't tell me to unplug the cable or turn off the wireless card. If I can unplug it, I can plug it back in, and I will.)

So, anyway, everything I said about individual books also applies to Alexandra's entire seven-book arc. I know how it ends, I know what important events will happen along the way. Most of the decisions about who lives and who dies (and shipping) were made by the time I started book two. But some of the events, I'm not sure yet how I'm going to get there, and there are some plot holes I've opened up that I'm still working out. So the final form of the series will not be the same as my current outline, just as the final versions of AQATLB and AQATDR veered pretty significantly from my outlines in places.

It's really hard to write a series and keep it on course. Rowling had problems starting with book four. Then there's Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin. (I've never actually read any of Jordan's books, and I've never read any of Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, either, though I'm thinking about starting it because everyone says how awesome it is. Except he's also apparently written himself into a corner so that it's taking him over five years to write the next book, and I also remember how Wild Cards descended into carnography and random butchery of main characters and I've heard Martin tends to do that with SoIaF, too.)


Poll #1602894 Outline Poll

What do you think of outlines?

I don't write anything without outlining it first
1(6.7%)
I'm a pretty strict outliner, but sometimes I just wing it
3(20.0%)
My outlines are sketchy at best
8(53.3%)
Outline? What outline?
3(20.0%)
Tags: alexandra quick, aqatsa, writing
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