Thursday, April 25, 2019

Plot Points

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the benefits of outlining a novel before you begin writing. I’m still plugging away at it, and, having moved scenes and added and eliminated characters, I’m more committed to outlining than before.

To outline or not to outline? According to The Writing Cooperative website, Joyce Carol Oates claims, “The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.” And Ernest Hemingway said, “Prose is architecture. It’s not interior design.”

It’s hard to argue with either of these two writers, and one of the major takeaways I have from this experience is that outlining allows me to see the story arc from thirty thousand feet. As the story takes shape, I can view the beginning, middle, and end and make decisions. For instance, I have made major plot revisions –– adding a backstory to clarify a major character’s motivation and cutting another character out completely –– before I begin writing.

In the past, I have written novels the way one drives at night –– writing “to the end of my headlights.” That is, writing each scene based on the scene that preceded it, and making plot decisions based on the previous scene and my instincts, guided by what I know about the character. This is an exciting way to write. The adage “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader” can be fitting. I wrote This One Day (as K.A. Delaney) that way. I didn’t know how the book would end until I was thirty pages from the conclusion. And it was terrifying.

More recently, I pulled a hundred pages from the draft of a novel and eliminated an entire secondary plotline. Both revisions cost me months –– months that, given my day job (I’m a boarding school teacher, dorm head, department chair, and coach), amounts to large chunks of time that I simply don’t have to waste.

But opinions vary, and Stephen King says, “Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.”

I’d love to hear what my Type M friends say on the matter.


Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I'm an outliner. Or, at least a hybrid. I don't have a lot of time to wandering too far astray and it does scare me to have no idea where I'm headed. I leave room for surprise, but in general I try to imagine what the last scene will be before I begin writing.

Mario Acevedo said...

Stephen King should tell Jeffery Deavers to quit outlining or he won't get anywhere in his writing career.