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To Outline or Not to Outline?


The practice of Outlining in creative writing strikes me as a contradiction. You’re putting formality and structure around a process which should be free and open to flow at will. You’re making it enclosing it, purposefully making it rigid.
But then I look back over the four years it took to write my first novel. I didn’t outline it. I just let my characters run around all higgledy-piggledy for at least a gazillion words until they’d decided what they wanted to do. Then there was a lot of restructuring and it became a novel. It was still twice the size of a normal contemporary romance novel that became two, then three books in a series that has the potential to infinitely grow.
And then… I look at National Novel Writing Month 2009 and the strictest outlining I have created before starting a new project. I mean serious army sergeant strict. And I remember how much Ireally hated writing that novel. Sure I wrote 50K in 23 days. But was it fun? Nu-huh! And the reason I write first and foremost is because I get a great deal of pleasure from it.
So let’s talk about something much more enjoyable; my published debut Tainted Love. It’s actually the sixth novel I’ve written and it took only two weeks to write. The difference between Tainted Love and the four year aimless marathon is that I had a good idea of where my character was going. Unknowingly, Faith is caught in progressively abusive marriage and over the course of twenty plus years the relationship succumbs to her husband’s rage and unpredictable violence. Faith expresses her deepest and most personal thoughts in letters she sends to her brother. I knew when I set out with a rough outline the couple had two children, that Calvin’s abuse was slow and would progress from verbal to physical to sexual and eventually near fatal and Faith would have to leave him. I knew she’d spend years trying to evade him until she finally rebuilt her sense of self worth to face him again.
I used to see outlining as an unnecessary evil, and it never really helped me at all. I remember feeling restricted and claustrophobic because I had a plan, a road map and I had to stick to it. But the wonderful thing about plans is they change. Well, why shouldn’t they? It’s part of the creative process. Your characters grow and develop over the course of their journey. They might develop faster or slower than you expected them to, or given a certain situation they might not act the way you expected them to. They might decide they want more than two children, or the evil one might actually have a reason for acting the way they do after all, or they might just want to break your heart.
In my opinion, one of the best things about being an author is there are no right or wrong answers. The debate about outlining will remain forevermore but the way I see it, outlining is like taking a fly-drive holiday using a Sat-Nav. It knows which rental office you’re picking the car up from and it knows where you’re supposed to be dropping it off, and it knows all the scheduled stops you want to make along the way. But who cares if you missed the last turning and got lost? Go and explore! Find out something new and exciting about your characters. Throw them into situations they might not have ended up in if you’d stuck to the itinerary! One of the most commented on plot twists in Tainted Love is ‘I didn’t expect Calvin… (To give you the rest would be to spoil it)’ and my response is ‘No, neither did I’.
By Erin Cawood
Buy Now @ Amazon & Amazon UK
Genre – Women’s Fiction / Contemporary Romance
Rating – PG13
More details about the author & the book
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