In ballet, there’s only one way to do an arabesque.
Well, okay, that’s a little misleading. In fact, there are several variants of arabesque – first, second, fifth, etc. etc. And those variants will have different names depending on the school (Vaganova, Chechetti, etc. etc.). But the basic step is the same, and there’s only one way to do it: you lift your leg up behind you with your knee straight, your leg turned out, and your foot pointed. That’s an arabesque.
Writing is not like ballet. There are as many ways to write as there are people who write! Everyone has their method.
So let’s talk outlining.
To Outline or Not to Outline?
That’s perhaps not the best question, actually, because views on outlining, like many things in life, fall along a spectrum. So let’s talk about the “extremists”, so to speak, and then I’ll weigh in on my own position.
At one end of the spectrum, we have the “pantsers” (so called because they “fly by the seat of their pants”). These writers don’t outline at all; they just write and see where the story takes them. Pros: It’s spontaneous, fresh; you can go with your best idea at any one time and not worry about contorting the story to fit your outline; you can come up with some surprisingly creative stuff. Cons: it’s easy to wander off into fruitless territory, to lose the narrative thread and get wrapped up in tangents.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have those who outline the most thoroughly. These writers outline all their scenes in detail, and know exactly how their novel begins, develops, and ends – as well as everything that happens in between. Pros: You always know where you’re headed. Cons: if you know exactly how the story goes, you may feel less motivated to actually write it (weird how that works); if you come up with a better idea halfway through, you either have to stop and re-outline or press on, perhaps abandoning a really good idea.
Personally, I prefer a more intermediate approach. Enough outline to map out the skeleton of my narrative (keeps me moving forward productively) but not so detailed that I can’t make changes, or no longer feel like actually writing the scene in question.
I find myself with something of a problem, however. I’ve gotten to the beginning of Act Two of Princess. I started writing the second scene of the act and…one of my characters has decided to change her entire personality. She was supposed to be a secondary antagonist for Kel, a rival for Teo’s affections. But…she decided she wants to be Kel’s friend instead. And, honestly, don’t we have enough cattiness in fantasy? When I started writing, I wanted to write about a sisterly relationship rather than a romantic one. Well, turns out the romance is there – but I still wanted to privilege other kinds of relationships. It’s looking like “friendship” is butting its head in there.
Of course, this means I have to work Tav into more scenes with Kel. And change some of the action of the climax. And…sigh.
Bria is the bigger problem, though. She was supposed to be a bit part! She wasn’t supposed to cause me this much grief! I’m not going to go into to much detail (spoilers), but it’s looking like I want to completely rework the first half of her subplot.
Which just goes to show you that you can’t plan for everything – it’s good to be flexible, at least in my writing method.
So where do you fall on the outlining spectrum? Ever had a character run away with your outline? What was your solution?