Outlining or Freestyle?

Last week I posted my thoughts and comments about the Bubonicon 44 convention in Albuquerque the last full weekend of August, 2012.  I attended a number of author presentations, and in one presentations, I heard someone talk about how they write the novels they’re famous for.  The author said he/she starts out writing not knowing how the book is going to end.  That may sound shocking but it wasn’t all that new to me.  I’ve read enough about writing and about how others write that I’ve come across that concept before.  But it got me to thinking about how I go about putting words down on paper.  Actually, on the computer screen.

There are two schools of thought about how writers view a novel prior to actually writing it: outlining and freestyle.  (I made up that last term; I’ve never heard anyone else use it in this context.)  An outliner creates a complete delineation of the novel before he/she even begins, like the outlines your teacher in school made you do before you wrote a theme.  (Remember themes in high school?)  Authors who outline know what’s going to happen every step of the way in their novel.  The final result may not adhere to the outline in every detail, but it’s close.  I admire writers who can do that.  I don’t, tho.

Those in the other camp, the freestylers, simply sit down at the computer or desk or whatever and begin to write, not knowing where they’re going, what the final plot will be about, maybe even who the characters will be.  On the one hand, that simplifies the progress of the novel, not having to think up and write down the outline in consummate detail before hand.  On the other hand, it seems to me it invites wandering, digressing into side tracks, and roaming where the novel need not go.  I sometimes wonder if freestylers have to cut a lot before they get to the final novel.  I also admire those who can write a tight, controlled and disciplined novel in this manner.  But I don’t do it that way, either.

I’m somewhere in between.  Like the outliners, I have to know where I’m going with a novel.  I must have the ending in sight before I start.  In fact, I frequently have the ending in mind before I know how to get there, that is, before I know how the characters will achieve that ending.  But I don’t write a detailed outline.  I do write a lot of notes, though, and these notes may run into forty or fifty pages of handwritten scribblings before I sit down and begin the novel.  I work out the characters, plot twists, etc., beforehand.  Many of the notes turn out to be contradictory, and not every thing I put down in my preliminary musings will make it into the novel.  But I always know how the novel will start and what the ending will be.  I can’t imagine writing a novel and not know what the ending will be.  I’ve got to know the ending.

Yet, along the way to writing a novel, I find myself editing and changing things.  I may realize that, although I decided to have the plot go in a certain direction, when I get to that point, the story just won’t work that way and I have to change it.  Maybe a certain character wouldn’t act that way, or a fact of life or science prevents them from doing something.  Changes always occur, and the novel is always the better for it, so I go with the flow.  But it’s fun along the way.

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  1. #1 by Fred Aiken on September 10, 2012 - 11:50 AM

    I believe the correct phrase is “Plotter versis Pantzer” The plotters are those that outline and the Pantzers are those of us who write from the seat of our pants, knowing the opening, the major characters and a vague notion where the story is headed. For us, writing is a voyage of discoery and wonder as out characters come alive and take us to unexpected places.

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