I’ve always just started writing. No outlines. And I’ve had people pressure me to use an outline over the years, always with whatever their format was.
Novel writing presented special challenges, because I’ve had a lot of trouble with running too short and with subplots. So I tried different types of outlines and participated in an outline workshop. What I found was that the outline always crashed and burned at about Chapter 3.
The only one that was a little different was the workshop. That provided a clue that eventually led me to discover why outlines haven’t worked. The workshop came in four sessions. The last two I had a hard with–I didn’t understand them, but I tried to fake my through, figuring I might get an understanding by doing. I have to learn by doing, but it’s hard when you don’t understand what you’re doing. The instructor kept telling me I needed to do more character development in the outline. I was having trouble with the story and I was sure about the characters, so I was letting them go. She kept pressuring me to do character development, so I finally tried to get something in. It was very difficult, and frustrating. A month after the workshop, I looked at the troublesome lessons again and still didn’t understand them at all.
I started How to Think Sideways in December. That’s Holly Lisle’s workshop on how to create a book from the beginning. In Lesson 5, she shows a very different approach to outlining. I realized that a traditional outline requires me to juggle all the elements i.e., protagonist, antagonist, conflict, story, etc. at the same time, so I was dropping balls. In some cases, like in the outline workshop, I dropped elements I knew would be easy, but I’ve also dropped balls on hard elements. I do better when these elements are in buckets, separate of each other, so I only need to focus on one.
What did you learn about your writing in 2010?