i bet i'll give up before it's written

In a move that surprises absolutely no one but me, I have come to a decision: outlines are not my style.

Seriously, now, stop laughing.

I would love to be one of those writers who outlines; it seems ever so much more efficient and streamlined a process than my own, which is to know a high point or two, to muddle through a draft of the manuscript which could more correctly be called a befuddlement of contradictory notes to myself, and then tear my hair out on revising said befuddlement into something approaching a story. Outlining would be much, much quicker, and less damaging on my hair.

It is with some irony, therefore, that Diana Peterfreund chose the very day I made this decision to post a tutorial on writing fiction synopses.

Here I am, trying to come to terms with my utter inability to plan a story in advance, doing my best to resign myself to the lengthy process that does work for me, and she goes and makes writing a synopsis sound easy. Attractive. Fun!

No fair. (And, er, yes, I will be trying out her advice by writing a not-a-synopsis of the next novel before I write said next novel. Because have I mentioned I'd love to be one of those writers who can outline?)

3 thoughts on “i bet i'll give up before it's written

  1. i read that post too. i am trying to write a synopsis at the moment. i spent a year making things up as i went and got precisely nowhere as far as the development of any coherent narrative. so now i am working out the story first, and it seems to be coming together. the other tool i've been looking at is the 'snowflake method' of going through and gradually adding layers of complexity to the outline. i've also been reading robert mckee's book _story_ which is for screenwriters, but helpful for all the narrative arts. my plan is to make the first draft as efficient and painless as possible, because i no longer have the luxury of time to fuck around hoping if i just throw enough words at it something good will come of it. so far, as usual, i'm kind of using the outlining process as procrastination, but i do feel like i've got a better handle on the structure of the main events.

  2. You should spare a thought for those poor writers who live to far on the other side of synopses… spending their entire creative energy outlining stories and never managing to wade through the tedious process of actually turning them into manuscripts.

    All flash and no bang is just as bad as all bang and…. never mind.

  3. @ Andy: nowhere? Truly nowhere? Ouch. Hope that synopsis helps you find the path again. I've read some of McKee's STORY (or maybe all of it? Can't remember now), and I remember a snowflake methodology, probably the same one. Like Diana's explanation of writing a synopsis, they always make me keen and eager to try outlining…and then I fall over in fits and starts, unable to wrap my brain around so much detailed organisation. I'm imposing a new rule for me: a loose and breezy synopsis beforehand is fine (if it works), anything else is not. I just can't write otherwise – I get paralysed by the detail. But I think most writers would look at my process (no outline? out of order and jigsawed together later?) and shudder, if not back away slowly making the sign of the cross. Good luck with that efficiency aim – it will probably work for you! (You do know you can bend my ear about the novel whenever you want, don't you?)


    LOL – thanks! I know, I know. And truth be told, my process isn't really any more cumbersome than outlining in advance – those who outline in advance do just as much dead-ending and casting back and rethinking. They just do it BEFORE the first draft, while I do it during. (They still come out looking less frazzled than me, though, I'm sure of it!)

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