Monday, October 1, 2012
The Danger of an Outline
I should start off by saying that I am a huge outliner. My outlines are basically just a list of bullet points, but I have it organized chapter by chapter, scene by scene, so I know which part goes where and roughly how many words each scene and each chapter needs to be to add up to the desired whole. If I don't know by my outline that I have enough material to fill a whole novel, I get anxious.
But as I've edited the novel I've noticed that a lot of the problems and flaws that I need to fix come from using an outline in the first place. The flaws are much easier to see after having given it some time as well as seeing the novel through the fresh eyes of my beta readers.
There are definite pacing problems, and spots where the emotional arc just does not flow. These things can be fixed, but I think these problems originate from sticking too closely to a laid out list of plot points. When you use an outline it is easy to follow it and ignore the subtle emotional reactions and changes in your characters that might actually influence or even totally change what happens next in the story. This makes the pacing feel off, the emotional reactions forced or unrealistic.
Outlines still definitely have their good points. Many, in fact, or I would not have used one. They keep you moving forward in a deliberate direction, giving your story necessary focus. They help you know where you are going. But I'm learning that even if you know where you are going, which is good, you still need to let your characters move slowly or stumble or run or skip or move forward in the way most natural to them, let them stop at the interesting cabin, look at the clouds, smell the roses. Let what happens happen. If it doesn't work you can always nix it later.
This is what I hope to be able to do next time.
So how many of you are outliners? How do you avoid this problem? If you're a pantser, how do you find the confidence that your idea is large enough for an entire novel?