Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mini Outlines—a Great Compromise

 blog33 I participate in a promotional group for mystery writers.  We have a great time, promote our books, and share ideas.  We talk about our books and answer questions about writing for readers.

One of the questions we frequently find ourselves answering is: “Do you outline?”  It’s probably the most divisive question for the group.

I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s just that our rather large group is divided in half by those who are adamant about outlining, and those who couldn’t outline if you put a gun to their heads.

I’ve written both ways.  And I see the pitfalls in both. If you outline, you can feel bound to a structured plan. If you go off on a tangent, you have to fit your diversion or subplot in somewhere. If you don’t outline, you’re writing a book in a sort of loosey-goosey manner and may not know what direction you’re going in. 

So here’s my solution.  It’s not for everybody.  But if you find yourself divided between the clean, organized lines of an outline and the freedom of writing as you go, maybe it will work for you.

A mini outline:  There are different ways you can give this a whirl.

A plan for a scene. This is perfect for the non-planners in the group. You’re not bound to a huge game-plan, but you have written with purpose. You could write notes at the top of that page almost like script or screenplay notes: setting, scene (what characters are present and what they’re doing), time of day, mood.

A plan for that chapter.  For instance, in the mystery I’m writing now, I have specific goals for each chapter. It’s not good to have pages that don’t further the plot, so I jot at the top of the chapter what clues or red herrings I’m including, or what suspects my sleuth is questioning.

A plan for several chapters.  Sometimes I like to write three chapters, then edit or add subplots to those chapters before moving on to the next few. If I jot down a plan for what I need to get accomplished in those chapters (I need to throw suspicions on one character, have another seem very sympathetic, need to include an important clue while diverting attention away from it, etc.

This method is a way I reconcile my need for organization with my need to brainstorm freely.  How do you outline?  Or do you do it at all?