Friday, October 15, 2010

The Debate Continues: Outline vs Creative Free-style

In recent posts, a couple of published authors discussed how they worked sans outline when approaching a new project. Today, we hear from the other court as Carla René talks about working with an outline.

Carla René is a professional stand-up comedienne, TV/stage actor, and author of The Gaslight Journal, as well as two short-story collections. She also writes a regular comedy column at

Having just completed my very first novel, and beginning it many years ago—never sure if I was going to finish it—I intuitively created an outline for it. Granted, it was a very bare-bones outline, but it was there.

Much like minimum word count, outlines are a requirement of agents and publishers. Agents normally require them from your second contracted book and forward in the process, but not for the first one. Thus, if you're shooting for a mainstream DTB publisher, you need to get yourself in the habit of using them. However, if you're going the indie route, and you know best how you work (some can retain details in their head, some can't), and it won't trip you up, then don't use it.

On November 1, I hope to begin my second novel in NaNoWriMo. So therefore, I am definitely attempting to get myself into the habit of using an outline, each and every time. Except this time, I'm going to employ advice from Joe Konrath (he and I met in the same online writing group back in 2000, so I've always trusted his advice), and make it as detailed as possible.

If you do this before you begin the book—creating incredibly detailed characters, plots, settings and sub-plots—then there's really nothing left to do once you're ready to begin writing except enjoy yourself, filling in all the bells, whistles, and dialogue. He suggests making them about 30–45 pages.

I'll blog sometime soon about some of my own experiences with outlining once my edits are done, but for this next novel, I am making it as detailed as possible before beginning.

On The Gaslight Journal, as I said, mine was bare-bones, and as I wrote, I found myself revising the outline as the fluid dynamics of my story set in. I think I mainly revised the outline so I could avoid retrograde amnesia in my details. And especially with doing historical fiction, details are everything, for one anachronistic slip, and you've shot your plausibility all to hell.

So, yes—I recommend outlines. Keeping in mind, after you've sold your first book and landed yourself an agent, she will want one for every book contracted to you after that. They're a great habit to get into.

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