Q&A with Stacy Juba discussion

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Writing Craft > To outline or wing it?

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message 1: by Stacy (new)

Stacy Juba | 20 comments Mod
To kick things off, I'll answer a question that I'm often asked - whether I use an extensive outline or make it up as I go along. I'm definitely an outliner. I need to know where the story is going. For Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, I planned about 5 chapters ahead, but for my current novel-in-progress, I'm working off an extensive outline that's roughly 20 pages. That helps me to track character development and subplots and saves lots of rewriting time later. A lesson learned the hard way! Although the outline isn't written in stone, having one takes some pressure off.


message 2: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 14, 2010 02:33PM) (new)

I use index cards with each chapter idea on a separate card, the general description of the chapter, and the characters involved. I like being able to put them out where I get a visual of the book's plot and pacing. Lots of times I end up moving chapters forward or back, adding chapters to keep the action going, and deleting chapters that don't really help the plot.


message 3: by Stacy (new)

Stacy Juba | 20 comments Mod
Thanks everyone for joining us and feel free to jump in with a question or comment at any time. Thanks for the information, B.J. I've heard other authors say that they like using index cards also as it gives them a visual sense of where the book is going. I'm a "list" person and have to-do lists and shopping lists all over the house, so I start out by writing a list of chronological events in the main storyline. Then I make a smaller list of events relating to the subplot and character development. Finally, I weave it all together and type it up into a chapter-by-chapter outline. I've heard some authors say they don't outline at all, but I need a road map or I'd get writer's block. It's interesting how all writers have different approaches.


message 4: by Susie (new)

Susie Kline (susiekline) | 1 comments Good hints from both of you! I am working on my second first draft (the first one mocks me from the book shelf behind me, untouched since I completed it 4 years ago!). For my first, I completely winged the whole thing during NaNoWriMo. This second one, I had to do more plotting. I "built" my entire town and a cast of characters. I have a general idea of where it's going. Just today, however, I have been thinking I really should plot out the rest in a more concrete way. I think I'll give the note cards a shot.


message 5: by Stacy (new)

Stacy Juba | 20 comments Mod
Good luck with the plotting, Susie! That's great you were able to get a novel down during NaNoWriMo. There's definitely benefits to taking a certain block of time to get down as much as you can without self-editing interfering with the creative process and it's inspiring knowing that other writers are doing the same thing at the same time.


message 6: by Darcia (new)

Darcia Helle (darciahelle) Hello everyone!

Stacy, it's great that you are able to work from an outline. You're much better disciplined than I! I'm one of those authors who wings it. When I begin, I have a general idea of the plot but that's about it. My characters are much more clear to me. They sort of lead me around, wherever they choose to go. :)

I think this issue varies greatly with writers, as well as with genres. For instance, I wouldn't think that an author could write an intricate fantasy series without an outline. My novels are all very character-driven, so I can get away with it easier.


message 7: by Stacy (new)

Stacy Juba | 20 comments Mod
I envy authors like you, Darcia! I did a presentation with an author recently who said that he sits down at the computer and the whole story pours out. He doesn't know the ending until he writes it. That is the way I used to write when I was writing shorter fiction, but when I started writing novels, it was too intimidating to not have a road map written down. It's neat how everyone's process is so different, but we all arrive at the same destination!


message 8: by Darcia (new)

Darcia Helle (darciahelle) I sometimes wish I could write from an outline. I find them daunting - almost as bad as writing a synopsis!

Are you more plot-driven when you write? I'm very character-driven, which might explain the difference in approaches. However, I'm not sure the process matters nearly as much as some people believe. As you said, we all arrive at the same destination! I think it's all about finding your comfort zone and just going for it.


message 9: by Stacy (new)

Stacy Juba | 20 comments Mod
I am more plot-driven, as the plot or concept always comes to me first, then I have to think of a character to go with the story. It took me a long time to learn how to develop well-rounded characters. Now I do detailed character sketches for my main character and the most important supporting characters. That helps a lot.

Oh, I hate writing the synopsis! I dread it, like I used to dread writing book reports in school. For my novel-in-progress, I tried something different and wrote the synopsis first, and that has been valuable as it helped me to figure out the overall theme of the novel. It was a huge relief to get it out of the way.

Writing the outline isn't as daunting to me as I just scribble out a big list of events, clues, etc. and then type it into paragraph form. I don't have to slave over perfecting every word, since it's just a writing tool and not a marketing tool like the synopsis.


message 10: by Darcia (new)

Darcia Helle (darciahelle) I work the opposite way. The characters come to me first, then I have to find the plot to go with it.

I love the idea of getting the synopsis out of the way first! Of course, that would mean I'd have to have some idea of what I'm writing first!


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