Outlining, My Little Spiel
by Damien T. Taylor
They say planning is the key to success. Usually, I agree. In writing, the consensus is that seasoned writers outline and amateur writers don’t. Maybe from a certain perspective, I can believe this to be true, but my writing journey so far has shown me a plausible alternative. Considering how long I sat and pondered the exactitude of this idea, I thought it appropriate to cast my little spiel, especially since one of the EPOCH’s words of the week has been organization. As Project Manager, I often tear through the week with the Director, Julian Brooks, trying to figure out quotas and goals. We like to think of it as a tumultuous quest full of challenges and perils, though, from the outside looking in, perhaps we look to be nothing more than chickens running around with our heads cut off. According to the political theorist and philosopher, Edmund Burk, “Good order is the foundation of all things.”
There’s something to be admired about writers with the restraint, patience, and perseverance to complete a very in-depth and finished outline for their stories in progress. I don’t consider outlining to be a simple ability, nor instinctual. I honestly couldn’t imagine myself sitting in front of a computer documenting every second down to the last moment of my WIP. The last time I attempted to do so, I took 12 years to publish my first book. I’ve concluded that I must be permitted the creative space for my story to tell itself. As a writer of fantasy fiction, I’m always head-over-heels for the opportunity to discover things in a world that is my oyster. For me, it can get uninteresting rather quickly if I already know that my character, who is stuck in an eerie black forest, will hitch a ride on a caravan that takes him back smooth sailing to civilization. I need it to feel like real time. What if something suddenly happens along the ride, and my character falls into a shadowy abyss crawling with grotesque, flesh-eating spiders the size of woolly mammoths? The story is instantly more exciting, isn’t it? I think so too.
Now, by no means am I saying that outlining is ineffective and won’t allow you to tell the best story you can. I would be a fool to make such a statement. Knowing and planning ALWAYS equates to success, and there is no argument against it. I’m merely pointing out that it is not so black and white when dealing with creativity. There’s an artistic quality to molding a story into the final product envisioned from the beginning. Technically, being honest, I’m a loose outliner. I like to write out ideas and little snippets of story to gain direction. When I say loose outlining, I mean… Chapter 1: Character returns home, Chapter 2: Character leaves home and goes to forest. That’s it. Anything else, I’m sure will cause a disastrous spat between me and my story ultimately resulting in it telling me to back off and let it be great. Trust me, I’ve had the argument for 12-plus years.
Taking the idea back to the original thought of outlining being the defining difference between seasoned writers and amateur writers, I can’t help but flop into some awkwardly dramatic expression. The entire idea is misplaced and foolish. I’ve witnessed just as many authors who outline produce gold as I have of ones who put furious hands to the keyboard and watched as their plot unfolded before their very eyes. If I had to choose a quality to define the latter writer, talented would be far more fitting than amateur. I’m awestruck by their ability to lunge into total creative spontaneity and author unforgettable magic. Personally, I think I’ll stick to allowing my character to go on a random tangent about his past love life before sailing away to lop off a few heads of nasty soul suckers. It just works for me. Whether you do or don’t outline, words like seasoned and amateur should be omitted from this aspect of writing and placed somewhere where they appropriately belong, like storyteller’s voice or adjective abuse. There’s my little spiel.
Oh, and if you want to see what happens in the den of those flesh-eating spiders, you can read about it in Arcan the Missing Nexus. It won’t disappoint.