No, not whether or not to put ketchup on your ice cream. Seriously.
I don’t outline. I’ve said this before. I feel like outlining takes all the fun out of writing. Why outline? It tells you what’s going to happen before you write. Where’s the fun in that? It’s like reading the script of a movie before you actually see it. (I’ve done that with Shakespeare, but never mind that, my lad.) It’s like… it’s like reading the recipe before baking a cake!
Okay, perhaps not so much, but you get the point. I write the same way that I read. I like to discover everything as I go, thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” Occasionally, I’ll have goals in mind that I’m working toward, but once I put them down on paper, I feel almost as if I’ve fulfilled my purpose. What am I? A writer. What am I trying to do with this story? I’m trying to write it. What did I do as I outlined? I wrote. What is the outline? It’s the story. Therefore, I wrote the story. QED. Unfortunately, that’s insufficient for obvious reasons. I’m not just trying to describe what happens in the story– I’m trying to tell it in the most stylish and entertaining way.
Nevertheless, I can’t get past this conviction that by outlining, I’m taking all the fun out of writing. I love discovering the story and characters and world bit by bit. I’m writing the book that I’d love to read the most.
Outlining has irresistible charms, however. The ability to see plot holes before you’re halfway through the first draft? The ability to foreshadow? The ability to work toward a conclusive end instead of cutting off abruptly and promising to tie things up when I edit? When you’re looking for easy editing and a nice, square first draft, these things are priceless. For everything else, there’s Mastercard.
Because of the obvious perks to outlining beforehand, I try to learn as much about outlining as I can. I’m working toward a successful outline with every story I write. Sometimes things work– sometimes they don’t and I’m back to discovery writing. But in the past few days, I’ve learned a lot that has helped me immensely. I haven’t yet had an opportunity to put it all to use, but I’m working on it.
Paragraph for each: setting, characters, inciting incident, 1st act break, midpoint, 2nd act break, and resolution. Make it work here first. Basic basics: Inciting incident– first thing out of the ordinary that happens. 1st act break– first action character takes to remedy it. Midpoint — when things progress to the point that there’s no going back- things won’t be the same. 2nd act break – throws out all hard work. Inciting incident = dealt a hand. 1st act break = you decide to bet. Midpoint = all-in. 2nd act break= looks like you have a losing hand. Resolution: you shoot the guy under the table. Or pull an ace. Or remember you’re playing go fish. Or a car drives through the wall.
~Emma Coats, former Pixar story artist
It was extremely interesting to me how much this outlining plan resembles the Hollywood Formula that I talked about not long ago. In fact, it’s even more detailed. The end of Act I is more defined, as is the midpoint; the end of Act II is a different look at the same concept of the low point. I laughed so much at the go fish part.
Of course, this is just one style. Another thing I saw was the following:
1.) The outline isn’t done until I LOVE the story I have planned.
2.) I think every great story hinges on a few great moments. Writing my way up to those moments, teeing them up, and delivering on them…working my way up to moments that really matter is exciting for me, and very gratifying.
3.) The outline isn’t carved in stone. Things always change as I write. So, I know what’s gonna happen, but ya never *really* know. Ya know?
~Matt Mylusch, author of The Accidental Hero
I was extremely glad for these tips. Myklusch writes such incredibly engaging stories– humorous in both plot and telling, fast-paced, and twisty. And yet… he outlines! He even outlines in detail, which would seem to take even more fun out of it. That is not the case, however. He picks out spectacular moments that make the audience care about the character and their plight– three per story at most, he said later. He writes, building up to these moments by foreshadowing, placing pieces just right, and being excited and flexible.
So. I’ve gotten a lot of information recently, but nothing works for everyone. Do you outline? If so, what’s your key to outlining the story without becoming disinterested in it?