Plotting vs. Pantsing 1: Stephen Jay Schwartz

January 19th, 2010

 

Boulevard_FInal 1

Los Angeles Times Bestselling Author Stephen Jay Schwartzpent a number of years as the Director of Development for film director Wolfgang Petersen where he worked with writers, producers and studio executives to develop screenplays for production. Among the film projects he helped developed are Air Force One, Outbreak and Bicentennial Man.   Stephen’s writing credits include Inside the Space Station, narrated by Liam Neeson, for The Discovery Channel.

Boulevard, a very dark crime thriller set in present-day Los Angeles, is Stephen’s first novel. His second novel, a sequel to Boulevard, is due out in Fall 2010.

Cover photo

I’ll Take a Road Map, Thank You Very Much

I spent years writing feature screenplays before leaping into BOULEVARD, my first novel. Screenplays are nothing if not plot. Structure is king and there’s simply no room for fat.

Screenwriters are used to writing very detailed outlines and treatments before starting the script. A treatment is a short story version of the film, basically a one-paragraph description of every scene without dialogue. The treatments I write for screenplays usually run between fifteen and twenty-five pages, single-spaced.

I wanted a different experience when it came to writing my first novel. I wanted to jump right in—no outline, no treatment—and wallow in the magic. And I did, and it was incredibly freeing. Characters and situations seemed to download into my mind from a universal, collective unconscious, and the plot points and character arcs evolved organically. It was wonderful. Until I wrote myself into a corner. Until I got stuck.

I had too much information swimming in my head. I couldn’t effectively foreshadow and pay-off my plot points because I had no perspective on the story as a whole. I was lost in the tangents. My characters were coming to life, but they were wandering, tripping over themselves. I needed an outline.

As I wrote the outline I felt compelled to include more detail. And so the outline became a treatment. And I realized I preferred it that way.

Some authors find this process boring.

I feel exactly the opposite. The detailed outline actually frees me to fully explore the scene. The treatment provides guideposts that anchor my scene, allowing me to journey further into character motivation while remaining confident that I won’t take the story on a hundred-page tangent. I let the characters be themselves and say what they need to say and often, very often, I’m surprised by what comes out. Sometimes what comes out actually changes the direction of the scene, which results in a change in the direction of the story from that point forward. (Or backward, if the case may be). If it feels good, I adjust my outline or treatment to accommodate the new direction my characters want to take.

I just finished my second novel and there was a point in the writing where I became completely and utterly lost. I was working with a very loose outline, seeing what would happen if I let the character dilemmas carry the plot. They ended up carrying the plot into a big pile of shit, is what they did. I ended up throwing out 90 hard-fought pages. It was terribly frustrating. I went back to the 3 X 5 card thing, posting them onto a large, pushpin board. When I had all the scenes on cards and all the cards in some semblance of order, I put it all into an outline, and from there I wrote a very detailed treatment. Only then did I feel the story would work.

This process gave me a birds-eye view of the entire canvas—I saw beginning/middle/end in a glance, with every subtle brushstroke in-between. And it worked. I had the freedom to explore within the scene, and I discovered that much of the exposition I had “front-loaded” into the early scenes could actually be drawn out over the course of seven or eight scenes, and a lot of it could be eliminated entirely. I suddenly had perspective.

It also gave me the freedom within each scene to explore quirky character traits and minor character sub-plots, knowing they would work in conjunction with the more important expositional beats I’d already plotted.

Once I saw that the whole story worked on paper, I experienced a tremendous sense of relief. I was on deadline for my second novel and I didn’t have time to write and rewrite the book, over and over again, the way I did with my first novel. I spent 3 ½ years writing BOULEVARD, and I was contracted to write the sequel in about a year. I spent six months of that time getting lost in the magic of research, and another two months writing myself into corners, before deciding to fully jump on the outline bandwagon.

At the same time I believe the process benefits from different approaches, depending on how much time I have and what the particular story requires. I allow myself the freedom to do some “seat-of-the-pants” writing early on, as an exercise to help me discover the story’s central motifs. To bring character back-story to life. To determine whether this is a story that absolutely needs to be told.

But once the scenes start piling up, I want to get them into an outline as soon as possible.

It all comes down to rewriting, anyway. I’m either rewriting the outline and treatment or I’m rewriting the entire novel. And I’d much rather kill my outlined scenes than suffer the pain of tossing fully-realized chapters into the trash. That’s an agony I try to avoid.

29 Responses to “Plotting vs. Pantsing 1: Stephen Jay Schwartz”

  1. Sylvia Says:

    This is fascinating stuff. I’ve realised that for the idea I’ve got bubbling in the back of my mind, I’ve started what you describe as a treatment. It makes sense that throwing the outline of a scene away must be easier than throwing out 1,500 words that you now realise don’t fit.

    I think I’m going to buy some index cards this weekend.

  2. Usman Says:

    I’m a born pantser, I know it it in my heart. Probably, that is why I’ll never be rich and famous (sigh).
    I agree that outlining the plot has it’s benefits, in terms of time, energy, and frustration saved, versus the ‘OTHERS’.

    I’ve always wondered though on how outlining effects characterization? (And I’ll ask this question of every unlucky writer who posts here; this question is driving me nuts.

  3. Stephen Jay Schwartz Says:

    Sylvia – I do love the discovery process of writing by the seat of my pants, there’s really nothing more freeing than that. Someday maybe I’ll really try to write a novel that way. But I think I’m a born plotter and I’ll always want to sneak back to my outline. It just gives me that sense of security. Let me know how the index cards work out for you.

    Usman – I’m questioning your question. What is your concern about how outlining effects characterization? My experience is that it helps…I can plan the character arcs of all the players and know where I want them to be from beginning to middle to end. I like all of my characters to change, even though the story is told through my protagonist’s point of view. Outlining helps me juggle those changing arcs.

    Thanks for your comments, guys!!!

  4. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Stephen — As a pantser — not, I think, because of any judgment on my part, but more because I don’t know how to outline — I have a variant on Usman’s question. You know where your characters are going to wind up before you actually begin to write them. I have no idea where they’re going to end up before I begin to write them. For me, story is where they end up, and writing story is following how they get there. How do you know them well enough at the outline stage to know where they’ll wind up, since that’s essentially the result of a bunch of smaller decisions made on the basis of who they are?

    Does that make sense? And if it does, can you help me clarify it?

  5. suzanna Says:

    Thanks for sharing the secrets to your creative process. I think it’s interesting to get a sense of how your screenwriting experience lends itself to writing books. Having a clear idea of your story content and characters by writing a treatment and using the cards to get the structure in place gives you a good framework but you also leave yourself plenty of room to alter things as you go along. Sounds like you’ve got the best of the pantser and plotter styles working for you. Looking forward to reading your books.

  6. Stephen Jay Schwartz Says:

    Good variation on the question, Tim. Gets me thinking. I feel like there’s plenty of room between the lines to discover new character traits and motivation while I’m writing. And, if the characters are pulling me in a direction that goes against my outline I will go with it and see where it takes me. If it takes me in the right direction I’ll change my outline and trust the characters. It all works in concert, eventually. But I guess I’ve made the decision early on that I’m going to be the one who tells my characters what the overall plot of the book will be. But that plot is ALWAYS based on human motivation — what would a character DO in this situation? The plot follows from that question. So, I determine the situation, and my characters tell me what they would do, and it’s this long give-and-take process. I agree with Suzanna in that there really is a combination of panster and plotter lurking in my approach. However, I really don’t trust myself to just go off the top of my head…I’m not a good chess player, and I can’t keep all those moves in my head all the time. The outline helps me create depth. Without it, my stories would be awfully linear.

  7. Usman Says:

    Stephen,
    To clarify myself: I’ve found that outlining is the best way to achieve the plot, the way the story unfolds.
    My point was that once you have the plot in order, and though you can change that order; does it in some way restrict your mind from changing what you want to do, or should do. For example, while writing, you discover that the character arc in no way matches the plot outine. But, you have the urge to tell the story the way you have pre-decided.
    Of course you can change horses, but that is what pantsers do. Not dissing outlines, I’ve learned enough to understand the value. I’m just trying to see how a plot outline, pre-conceived, would effect other elements in the book.
    Have I explained better?

  8. Philip Coggan Says:

    Stephen, the big question for me is: what does an outline look like? You say it’s a scene-by-scene approach, one para per scene, no dialogue: is that right?

    From something else you say I get the impression that you concentrate, at that early planning stage, on major plot-points – sort of “we really MUST arrive at THIS scene, sooner or later.” I know some writers do it that way – they write major scenes first, then go back and fill in the gaps. Sounds very difficult to me – but is that what you mean?

    You mention the 3×5 index cards. I think this is what movie scriptwriters use, isn’t it? They have different coloured cards, and they pin them on a board, and move them around/replace them till they’re ready to go. Is that what’s done – the one-para scene summaries one per card like that?

    More to that last para: on my first/last novel, I created a summary – but after the first draft was written. This had one page per chapter and two columns. In the left column (wide) I wrote a summary of each scene in the chapter, headed with the time of day it happened (each chapter took up one day), the place, and the characters both present and mentioned (ie, who’s talking and who they’re talking about). Then dot points detailing important content for the scene. The right column was for notes to myself – does this scene conflict with some other scene, should something be added here, etc. I can see how all this could be done on index cards – but I sort of like the way Word lets me search key words that are important to the story (like, I want to know how often my hero visits a certain place, I can just look it up with Search). Can the index card thing be done on a computer?

    Thanks for sharing with us by the way, it’s much appreciated.

  9. Gary Says:

    Tim’s right. We all have different approaches.
    It’s great to see sucessful authors who both plot (Stephen) and pants (Tim). Maybe in the final analysis there’s not a huge amount of difference: if you cling to the belief that the plot of any story is pretty much resident in the writer’s mind before the writing starts, then it probably doesn’t matter if it’s written down in detail on index cards or just left lying there in the subconscious.
    Simenon was a notoriously detailed plotter: in preparation for writing his Maigret stories he would work out detailed floor plans for each locale and equally detailed backgrounds for each character, whether this detail appeared in the final product or not. And that’s what worked for him.
    My own limited experience of what works is to start with a situation, filled with as much tension or potential tension as possible, and populate it with interesting characters. Then just step back and let it all start to happen. Often, as Stephen has testified, this can lead you into a whole pile of shit – but wasn’t it Hemingway who said that the first draft of anything is shit? – and then you just back up a ways and set off again.
    I freely admit that this approach can lead to a whole lot of stuff getting written that later doesn’t get used. But I’ve had exactly the same experience with plotting a scene in detail: when it comes to actually writing it the action heads off in a completely different direction, and the detailed plotting ends up as nothing more than a starting point after all.
    Stephen and Tim?

  10. Stephen Jay Schwartz Says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Usman.
    Well, I can’t stick with a plot that doesn’t work sensibly. If my instinct tells me (through my character’s desire to take a different route than what I’ve planned) that the plot isn’t working, I’ll change the plot. Which means changing the outline or treatment. I don’t ever want to be held hostage by my early battle plan. Everything must be fluid. My big fear is that my characters might feel like stick figures if I don’t let them grow on their own. On the other hand, they might feel like stick figures if I don’t plan them out from the get-go. I think I’ll change my process many times through the course of my career. I’ll do some experimenting, providing I have the time.

  11. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Everyone — this is the perpetual topic, as far as I’m concerned, largely because it can be discussed at all. The roots of writing are (to me, anyway) such a mystery that I wouldn’t know how to begin to talk about them — not where an idea comes from, but how it mutates in the creative process, how the people spring into being with their personalities, hopes, fears — all that stuff is just magic. But we can all talk about how we get it down: do we outline, do we pants, and why? And what are our work habits, how many times a week, etc. etc.

    I think Stephen and Usman together raised a question I should have asked plotters and pantsers alike: what do you do (a) when your story wants to move in an unanticipated directions and/or (b) you become aware that it kind of stinks. These are questions I’ll be asking future bloggers to consider.

    I’m going to write more about these last posts (including yours, Gary and Philip) but right now I’m written out, having spent a day — grrrrrrr — outlining for a book proposal. Stephen I don’t know how you do it.

  12. Stephen Jay Schwartz Says:

    Well, Tim, I’m not looking forward to outlining for a book proposal. It’s not something I’ve done before. I sold BOULEVARD after I wrote it, and the 2nd book was simply added to the contract as “sequel to BOULEVARD,” so I didn’t have to give my publisher anything. Kind of exciting and scary at the same time. I’ll be writing a proposal soon, for my third book, which will probably be a standalone.
    I’m sorry I didn’t get back to Gary and Philip – I was out all day and just came back on-line. So I’ll address them now.
    First of all, great comments and observations from both of you, and from Tim as well.
    Gary: I recently saw Ellroy speak at The Mystery Bookstore and I asked him if he outlined his books. He said that he did something like a 300 page outline for a thousand page book – I can’t remember exactly, but it was close to that. That, to me, seems excessive. But, by God, does he know every detail! I would never want to plot a book out to that degree.
    Philip: The scene by scene description of the entire plot, one paragraph per scene, no dialogue, is called a TREATMENT, not an outline. I start with a basic outline, as you described, by first identifying the crucial scenes. This is usually a few scenes to start off the book, then selected scenes that pop into my head; scenes of conflict, turning points. Then maybe a scene or two that takes us into the climax, then maybe a scene to end the piece. Just simple bullet points. As I think about the story I begin to fill in the spaces, again, just as bullet points in this basic outline. As this outline begins to fill out I start to write it as a treatment, which means that I fill in all the blanks. It looks kind of like a short story. It will end up being ten to twenty pages or so. At the same time I might have started writing the book from the beginning, knowing that I at least have the first few scenes in my head and I’m itching to get started, to get creative. And so, I kind of juggle the treatment and the novel together for a while, sometimes going back to the outline to get a broader view of things.
    I actually get pretty frustrated with the 3X5 cards after a while, too. They are pretty much a last ditch effort to get organized.
    I really like the way you describe your plotting using a Word document. I’d love to see a sample of what you do — I like the idea that you put the “time stamp” on each scene, so you know where you are in the day-to-day story. I always lose track of the days and nights that actually pass in my story. And I love the way you can check up to see if you’ve had your character enter a location one too many times, or if you’ve described a character’s “red hair” every time you see that character. That’s a great way to avoid having to pick through the manuscript at the very end of the process, before you send it to the copyeditor. My wife reads behind everything I write and she does a great job of catching that.
    I’m pretty sure the index card thing can be done on computer. There are programs like this for screenwriting – Final Draft and Movie Magic. But I really like your process, what you’ve figured out on your own. Maybe that’s how I’ll write book three…if I can get through the proposal.
    Question for Tim – how long is your book proposal? Single or double space? Is it for a standalone or another in your series? I need a little guidance I think before I step in.

  13. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Well, this is just amazingly interesting. I’d also love to see some actual outline approaches, because, as I said, I pants because it’s the only way I know how to write, and that means I often find myself following what I think is a freeway and ending up at a dead end in Dogpatch.

    By the way, Philip just got an agent to represent his first thriller which, when it’s published, will be the first I know of to be set in Phnom Penh, a town I know very well.

    Gary, didn’t know that about Simenon, although it doesn’t surprise me. Ellroy flabbergasts me — I never would have guessed that he was anything but the King of the Pantsers. And, Gary, your working process is much like mine, except that mine can also begin with an image. I’m currently working on a book proposal that begins with a six-foot, fully winged angel walking down Khao San road.

    Stephen, the proposal will wind up being 12-20 pages. I begin with condensed scenes, complete with dialogue, supposedly to give my editor a sense of the characters, but actually because I don’t know how to write any other way. These scenes shorten as characters reappear, and they’ll build to the point at which the two main story lines in the book converge and then it will descend into some foggy enthusiasm about unforeseen reversals and stunning revelations and about their being an invisible hand behind it all. Those things are all true, but I don’t know what they are yet.

    And, yes, I’m writing two of these buggers for Poke 5 and 6.

  14. Stephen Jay Schwartz Says:

    Ugh, 12-20 pages. That sounds too much like work. Sounds like a fully realized plot and set of characters. I get it, though, I totally know that last couple pages of “foggy enthusiasm about unforeseen reversals” stuff. I’m sure I’ll be doing a lot of that – it just can’t be avoided when the story hasn’t been developed yet.
    Congratulations, Philip, for getting published. I can’t wait to see you at The Mystery Bookstore and pick up an autographed copy.
    Thanks again for this great opportunity, Tim, and everyone here who visits Tim’s site. I’ve had a great time and I’ve enjoyed the dialectic!

  15. Dana King Says:

    Dang, I go away for a few days and miss a lot of stuff.

    I’m happy to see Stephen’s system is much like mine. I have little sketches of each chapter/scene in advance, done of 3×5 cards for sequencing, then transferred to a Word table. All that tells me is what needs to get done in that chapter; how it gets done is a game-time decision, and I can take whatever route makes sense.

    My characters are chosen with the plot in mind, to some extent. If I’d like to make something a key plot point, I’ll cast a specific person for it, not unlike watching Peter Graves pick through pictures at the beginning of the old MISSION IMPOSSIBLE shows. Specifics and foibles can be tweaked as I go and the character comes better into focus.

  16. Stephen Jay Schwartz Says:

    Dana – ah, an ally! I like your Mission Impossible analogy.
    I also find that everything is up for grabs when you’re writing a novel, and a writer cannot discount anything that works. I tend to wallow in research. The good ideas will stick, while the average ones will be forgotten.

  17. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    This discussion has been everything I ever hoped it would be, and then some, and I doubt it’s over yet.

    Stephen, I hope you don’t feel ganged up on. It seems to me that all of us are looking kind of hopefully at the other writer’s approach, since each of us is so deeply familiar with the limitations of our own. At least, I know I am.

    Writing a book proposal like the one(s) I’m currently agonizing over just makes me deeply envious of you — or any writer who can envision a story in units as you do, and know that in the end, it’ll seem as though the entire plot came directly out of the characters’ souls. BOULEVARD certainly does — and for any of you who want to see how deeply felt an outlined book can be, check out Stephen’s first, which feels like he’s been writing novels for years.

    Dana, I really love your idea of “casting” characters. I sometimes come at that sort of backwards — I’ll realize that it’s easier for me to hear a character’s speech if I have a specific actor’s voice in mind. But it’s a revelation to me that a writer could have the recourse to a sort of stock company of actors he/she can envision in different roles, sort of the way the old studio system worked(or Ingmar Bergman, whose movies I’m watching nightly now.)

    And, in passing, I also outline, but I do it retroactively, and the primary purpose of it is to make sure my chronology is straight. Every scene begins with day, time, and location, and the first time any character appears is marked in red. It’s a nice way of getting the 20,000-foot view that I’d imagine Stephen has when he outlines at the beginning of his process.

    So I want to thank you, Stephen, for getting this off to such a terrific start — and anyone who has more to say, please chime in.

  18. minervaK Says:

    I’m coming in late to this discussion, and of course I want to throw in my $0.02, as I am fresh from a Learning Experience (TM) along these very lines.

    I started my current novel without an outline, about two years ago. Then I started it again, and then a third time. That third time, I got about halfway through it before it melted down. So I started it YET AGAIN, doing some character sketches and minimal plot research first. That got me an excruciatingly-almost-finished draft. Which I started rewriting AGAIN a few months ago.

    Last week, I realized it was getting close to melting temperature.

    So I stopped working on it, and took a couple of days to write what I’d call a ‘narrative summary’ of the story, with a major change to the situation of the protag, because I could tell that what I was doing wasn’t working (only took me five re-writes, woo-hoo).

    What I learned (see my blog) is that the change to the protag wasn’t going to fix the problem — but writing this ‘narrative summary’ very well may. So I’ll be doing that, on my almost-finished novel, in the coming weeks. Back-asswards, but there you have it.

    I dunno if I’d call this an outline — the one I did last week is about fifty pages, and pretty detailed. To you pantsers that probably sounds horrific, but there was something very freeing about it. I think it may be because I didn’t try to make it ‘outline-y,’ if that makes any sense. That is, it doesn’t go “Chapter 1, Scene 1: Protag arrives at scene of the crime. Chapter 1, Scene 2: (etc.)” It’s more like a stream-of-consciousness revelation of the sequence of events in the book, including all the surrounding ‘stuff’ that goes with those events (the characters’ reactions, feelings, and behaviors; possible side plots; the ‘tone’ I want a certain scene to set; off-stage facts, scenes, and situations that affect the storyline; etc.).

    So, I may very well be a plotter. The question that comes to my mind is whether pantsers and plotters are divided at all by genre. I write in the mystery/crime vein, and I often think that those kinds of books conform themselves to outlining in a way that literary fiction might not. What do you Hemingway types say?

  19. Stephen Jay Schwartz Says:

    Thanks, guys, for keeping the dialogue going. I’m thoroughly enjoying this. And, Tim, don’t worry, I definitely don’t feel ganged-up on. If anything, I really envy the pansters–I would love nothing more than to sit and write without any plotting or planning. I desire that kind of freedom. Unfortunately, I’ve learned there’s a price for that freedom, and the price is that I have to throw out so much of what results from that process. And that’s just hard to do.
    I love Minervak’s comments, because that was exactly how I wrote my very first screenplay. I wrote it four, five, maybe six times over the course of about four years. By the time I did my final pass I’d managed to learn how to write a screenplay, and the project benefited from my perseverance. It ended up winning competitions and getting me my first film agent. Which, ultimately, didn’t mean anything, of course, because it’s the film industry, which is filled with lies and illusion. Yep, you can tell I’m happy to be writing novels. But I did get a lot out of writing all those screenplays, I got the paradigm I needed upon which to build story.
    And, Tim, you are so kind. Thank you for your wonderful words about Boulevard. I respect your work so much, you are such a fantastic writer, and so your words of praise mean that much more to me.
    Another note to minervak – you might be onto something regarding the genre thing. If I were to write a Hemmingwayesque novel I might go panster all the way. But a complicated crime plot requires that I know every detail beforehand. I’d love to know how your novel works after you finish your detailed outline. It sounds like you’re going to nail this next draft. I hope it’s the one.

  20. Philip Coggan Says:

    How Pantsing Works

    This is how it happened:

    I started with an image: a helicopter crashing during a monsoon storm. I got that image from real-life – it happened, it killed the Minister for Police.

    So said to myself, wow, that’s dramatic, I’ll make that the climax. Where’s the rest of the story?

    So I looked around and found a situation: a guesthouse that’s been videoing customers with prostitutes using spy-cameras. Note: this was a real situation. So there I had a situation that could lead to the climax, but I still didn’t know how.

    But the police minister is a politician, so let’s go politics. Let’s have Mercury, messenger of the gods, outline the situation. And what’s a credible modern-day Mercury? A newspaper-boy. I knew a real one, his name’s Michael, so he gets to be the first voice we hear.

    But who’s he talking to? The reader of cource, but addressing thee reader directly would be too post-modern, so let’s give him a Hero-figure. I know a guy owns a bar, so he’s my Hero. So opening scene, Michael talks to my hero about…what?

    About someone being thrown in jail because someone else bribed the police. Again, a real situation, or at least one that was around as gossip about ten years ago. So that’s scene 1: Mercury tells the Hero that the McGuffin is in jail.

    Then what? Well, if someone got McGuffin in jail, then Someone is important. More about him – another scene. Who can be in it? The Hero has to have a Helper, heros always do. So the Helper arrives and the Hero talks to him, about…well, how to get McGuffin out of jail of course.

    And if there’s one Helper there has to be another, because Helpers always come in twos, a short talkative one and a fat stupid one. Always.

    And that’s how it’s done. Real-life provides the situation, archetypes fill in the gaps, and sheer impetus keeps it all moving. More exactly, it’s memory of real-life. Just be careful not to fall off the highwire into (a) libel, or (b) stereotypes.

    (By the way, when I got to the end I found there was no helicopter there and no police minister – the characters took me to a different place entirely).

    And now I’m looking at book 2. I know there’s a ghost buried under the floor of the hero’s bar, and I know there’s a boy who’s staged his own disappearance, and I know it all ends in the National Museum, but so far I don’t know the bits in between.

  21. Stephen Jay Schwartz Says:

    That is awesome, Philip. I basically do the same thing, but at a certain point I begin outlining it.
    I love the fact that, in the end, there was no helicopter crash.

  22. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    This discussion should win some sort of award. It’s opened up a whole new idea to me — a series of guest blogs in which writers talk about how they approach the various components of a novel: such concrete things as setting and character development, to slightly more abstract areas such as pacing, structure, finding a story’s starting point, etc.

    Anyone got a topic to nominate? If we did this right, at the end of, say, a year, we’d have the a sort of permanent archive: the thoughts of a bunch of fine writers on virtually every aspect of writing a novel.

    Who’d read this? Can we have a show of hands?

    And minervak, you wrote “see my blog” but I didn’t see a link. Wanna send it to us?

  23. Philip Coggan Says:

    I like the idea Tim. I wonder whether writers actually know how they write? But it would be interesting to hear about it.

  24. minervaK Says:

    If you click on my name above, that’ll get you to my blog. Thanks for asking! I have a poll up…

  25. minervaK Says:

    Oh, yeah, I thought of another question:

    Do you guys think that there is a prejudice in the writing profession against outlining? Especially among those who aspire to be ‘serious novelists?’ I ask because I find myself wondering why on earth I ever thought I could write a book without an outline, and the only answer I can come up with is that I somehow gathered that ‘that’s how professional writers do it.’ I don’t know where I picked up this idea, but it’s certainly there in the back of my mind that only talentless hacks have to resort to outlining.

    I mean, I know it’s bullshit, but I just wonder if that’s an attitude anyone else has encountered, in the ‘published writer’ world?

  26. Stephen Jay Schwartz Says:

    minervak – That’s an interesting observation. I actually thought the opposite, that editors and agents would expect their authors to outline. Maybe that’s what the book proposal means to them. I’m with you – I can’t imagine not outlining. In fact, I’m just beginning to brainstorm for my third novel, a standalone, and I’m finding myself placing the stand-out scenes in order on the page with bullet points. I’ve started with describing a few central characters, and then I put the dramatic turning points down in some semblance of order. I’ll keep adding and adding until I have a story that makes sense to me.
    The funny thing is that I’m not an organized person at all outside of my writing. My car and house is a mess, my finances are abismal, I don’t even keep a checking log, and there’s dogshit in my front yard.
    But I outline.

  27. Stephen Jay Schwartz Says:

    …and I go back to correct my mistakes, too. Like “my car and house ARE a mess,” and “abysmal.”

  28. minervaK Says:

    Stephen — I’m the same way. My physical environment always looks like a tornado just went through it. My head usually does, too, so maybe that’s why I need that organizing step before I launch into something.

  29. Melanie Jackson Says:

    Hi Stephen,
    I like the idea of cards up on a wall giving you a bird’s eye view. After similar piles-of-manuscript-shit experiences, I finally started doing outlines. Other authors have airily told me they don’t need outlines, but I find it hard to believe.
    Thanks,
    Melanie Jackson

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