Apr 17, 2013

Posted by in Blog | 15 Comments

OUTLINES ARE THE ZOMBIES EATING MY BRAIN

zombiegardenteeAs a writer, I’m constantly striving to improve my craft. There’s a ton of information and advice out there.  But it seems everywhere I’ve looked lately has led to experts and/or seasoned writers talking about outlining stories.  They lecture the need to lay the bones of the plot in the right sequence so elbows are attached to arms instead of legs and heads sit atop necks, not hipbones.  I have no doubt that this is very desirable when building a person-shaped thing.  But what if the thing is story-shaped?

I confess to being the type of writer that sits at the keyboard with only the barest wisp of an idea before plunging ahead.  The voices in my head tell me what to do next.  Wait.  That didn’t sound right.  My story characters’ voices in my head tell me what to do next.  Better.

My attempts at outlines feel like Doctor Frankenstein’s creation but not as handsome or talented at tap-dancing.  I’ve tried to create outlines.  Really.  Many times.  In different mediums and multiple colors. I’ve built my skeletons, even grown some flesh on them.  But what comes shambling out is not what I intended at all.

And they all want to eat my brain.

Okay, maybe it just feels like they want to chomp on my grey matter.  The theory of outlining a story is a solid one; it makes perfect sense, and seems like an exceedingly logical way to proceed.  The problem is that, like zombies, outlines are scary partially-formed things chasing after you with serious noshing on their minds or stomachs, whatever.  The thought of writing to an outline is like that of a zombie eagerly sucking brains through a straw sticking out of a hole in my head – akin to a coconut husk cocktail on Tiki night at the Luau.

So why do something if it doesn’t work for me?  I have a guilty little squirmy feeling that I haven’t really given outlining a chance.  And I might be missing out on a really good thing.  The zombie might not be unredeemable.  Like the zombie guy in Warm Bodies, there might be a heartbeat under the disintegrating skin of its chest.  So, I want to believe.  I want to believe that the magical properties of outlining will be able to transform the zombie into a hot guy, uh, I mean, into a useful member of society (no, I really meant hot guy).  I’m going to try it one more time.  Maybe more than once.  And if I have any brain matter left after that, I’ll call it a success and be enlightened to the joys of structure.  Unfortunately, just typing that last sentence made something dribble out of my ear.  Well, let’s see what happens.

  1. You must be doing something right! I love your writing!

  2. Right on, Mertianna! I always have a slightly guilty feeling that I’m cheating somehow by not outlining, but where would those characters who just pop up live? Or the subplots that branch out like badly trimmed bushes?
    Love this, thanks!

  3. I have the same problem. I should outline. I should plan. I should plot. But, after hitting the first bullet point, things so awry for me. I then find myself having to change the subsequent bullet points and if and when I ever hit the next bullet point, it might not even matter any more.

    Here’s to the pantsers! Great stories come from creating not planning. You can plan, and plan, and plan, and plan, but if you never add any creativity, you end up with dull plans on a page. Well, maybe not, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    Fun post, Mertianna.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  4. I can never decide what I want to be. I plot then stop following it, I pantz then have to go back and fix the plot points so I try plotting again. My last MS I plot first five chapters then pantzed after that. That suited that story, in the end I think I’m a pantzer who feels guilty for not plotting.

  5. I’ve tried outlining, I’ve tried pantsting. And everything in between. Seems like each story has its own needs. For some stories an outline won’t hurt. Not a {{shudder}} plot in advance, just a reminder that Gabriel is going to see Clair in town before he actually meets her. My characters constantly surprise me, and that works just fine for my writerly self. The world I created in My Killer My Love came in a rush of information I stayed up late nights to pound out. But I didn’t realize at the time there were so many more stories about the Atrahasis to be told. I did try to outline this current one, honest I did. But Gabriel and Clair MOCKED me. ME, their creator! And they’re telling their own story. Works for me!
    LOVE the music for your trailer

    • Mertianna Georgia says:

      LOL. I know exactly what you’re saying. My characters do strange things before I can stop them!

  6. Fun post, Mertianna. In my first two books in my mystery series, I knew who the victims and killer were and the reason behind the murders. Then both times the plot completely changed. For my third book, I was determined to have an outline in advance. That lasted for 15 pages. At that point, the victim refused to let me write her out of the book so I upgraded her to a suspect. Since then, the characters have written the story and I love the magic they’ve produced. Hopefully everyone else will too!

    It’s wonderful to be in such great pantser company.

  7. Barbara McFarlane says:

    Clever, Mertianna….and as you know, we went through an onslaught of why we should outline by Mr. Simon. No Can Do.
    If I outline, I feel my characters are set and then become stilted because new ones can’t crop up along the way…out of the blue and wild and witty. ;) )
    Good work.
    B

  8. Pam Giarrizzo says:

    I’m with you, Mertianna! I’m a total pantser, although I wish I could plot everything out ahead of time. Instead, I find myself writing a cool sentence or paragraph and then saying, “So what happens next?” Maybe it’s better that way. If I know ahead of time everything that’s going to happen, I might get bored actually writing it. As long as I don’t know what comes next, writing it is an adventure.

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