Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Outlines and character profiles

Well, it's official. I can't for the life of me do a plot outline. I am a degenerate. :)

I got thinking about this after talking with a friend (also a writer) and she told me she was doing outlines for each chapter, and had written up a profile for her MC.

I've tried - several times - but I think, essentially, I just don't have the patience for it. Since I like to have a good idea in my head of where I'm going before I start writing, it felt like I was telling myself what I already knew. And I've got a good memory for minute details, so I can hold the finer plot details in my head. Even my unfinished fantasy series - which I've not touched for three years now - I can remember every tiny twist and turn. It's the same with essays. I try to write up plans, and I never stick to them. Do my essays suffer for it? Well, judging from all the markers' comments about how well-structured they are, apparently not. :D

But will this necessarily apply to my novels? That's what I'm wondering. So far, my biggest challenge isn't keeping all the various subplots and plot twists straight, but more being able to do them all justice. Would an outline help me there any?

I wonder... maybe I was going about it wrong? Am I better doing what my friend did, and outline the story chapter by chapter, rather than all at once? Or is an overview of the plot as a whole the way to go?

And it's the same with character profiles. I tried doing them, but again got that feeling that I was just repeating to myself what I already knew in detail. Not to mention lists of character attributes and quirks look very dry and lifeless when set down on paper by themselves. I did, however, read elsewhere that "interviewing" your characters is also a good idea. I've started that with my Roman MC, Marcus, and actually having quite a fun time of it. :)

Any of you got any advice on this subject? I think it's probably a personal thing, but I can't help the feeling it's something I really ought to do.


Crystal said...

From reading other authors blogs on how they write, go with what you feel comfortable with. Everyone is different and can work at many different angles of the writing process. If you go to my blogroll and click on Monika she has a posting you might find interesting on the writing process. It's the first second or third post she has. I can't remember but i'll go over there and find out, maybe it will help;0) I'll be back!

Crystal said...

January 25th post on "how to write a book." Hope it helps you in some way! Have a good evening sweet!!

K.A. Denby said...

I think it is up to the individual. If there was only one way to write a book or story, then reading would be a huge bore! I never have believed in outlines. I do character development, but I do it because it helps me. If something doesn't help me as a writer, then I don't do it. Anyone that expects you to follow a connect-the-dots approach to writing has no idea what real writing is. Formula is formula. You get out what you put in.

So, basically do what works for you. If writing an outline feels like a waste of time, then don't do it. I draw maps of my stories sometimes, because it helps me orient myself in the story. Others see this as tedious and unnecessary, and that's fine. I don't do it for every story. Just when it is necessary.

King's On Writing is a great guide for the untested writer. Have you read it?

Celedë Anthaas said...

Like Crystal, I think you should go with what you're comfortable with. I tried chapter outlines for my first novel but it ended up a complete mess. The thing I'm writing now doesn't even have a plot (well, actually it does, but it keeps changing and I'm too lazy to rewrite the beginning).
I do have a general idea of where I'm going, but I get so many new ideas while I write that it's pointless to make detailed outlines or even character profiles.

Interviewing characters is always fun though, especially when they refuse to answer (yes, Imerix, I'm talking about you - what did actually happen to your brother?)

Oh, and my Roman MC is called Marcus too :D

Gabriele C. said...

Has Imerix still not told you? Maybe you should try and tie him to an altar and swing a big sword in direction of his neck - worked with Madalric. :)

Kirsten, I've tried all sorts of outline from line per chapter to a so called phase outline (very detailed) and nothing worked. A vauge idea, often not even written down, is what works best for me. And I'm writing non linear, to add to the fun. On several projects at once. Well, George RR Martin works the same way and look where he's today. :)

Kirsten Campbell said...

Crystal - That was very interesting, especially what she said about writing dialogue. I've got a folder full of "fragments" that I've scribbled down: scenes or even sentences that just come at me out of the blue. Some of them are even just snippets of dialogue. And I write out-of-order too.

Kristopher - I think that's why reading and writing are so good; they're such personal experiences. Which means that for writers there are infinite ways to go about it. :) It's just that so many people swear by outlines that I've wondered sometimes if it's worth facing the boredom of it.

Btw, what are you writing, if you don't mind my asking?

Celedë - That's another one of the reasons I'm wary of outlines; I have new subplots and characters turning up almost daily, like that Taexali warrior who waltzed in last night and is now threatening to rock the boat of a plotline I had just about figured out. (sigh) And all those changes in plot would probably have to result in new outlines, and I really can't be bothered with that!

And don't remind me about non-communicative characters! It was months before Marcus finally decided to tell me what his backstory was, and when he did I almost wished I hadn't asked. ;)

(PS, I think there's probably a whole crowd of Roman MCs going by the name of Marcus, lol!)

Gabriele - Now there's an encouraging example! (GRR Martin, that is). I'm also working on several things at once, though trying to focus on the Flavian and Antonine novels, and although "officially" I'm writing in chronological order, I tend to just write scenes as they come to me, and wait for myself to catch up with them. The good thing about that is I can see what my characters are heading for already, and can then work on setting up their storylines.

I think one of the things I don't like about outlining is it takes all the fun out of it. I like starting with an idea (however vague) and then watching it all unfold in front of me. I like the feeling of satisfaction I get when that happens. :)

Gabriele C. said...

Those annyoing walk-ins. Celede can provide you with a fine rant about those, I'm sure. She gets more than I.

I tend to get characters who don't stick to the basic idea I have about their character and role in the plot. Like when Saldis decided she was not happily married and going to flee with Thorgil and Alastair. Now I have to write some scenes with her, daddy Gautrec and Asbjörn, and tie those in with the main plot.

GRR Martin said in an interview he has only a general idea where Song of Ice and Fire is going, and his characters keep surprising him. And his friend and co-editor of the Wild Card books, Melinda Snodgrass, said in a reply on her blog where I explained I wrote non linear, 'you and George both. It would kill me to work that way.' So you see, every writer has his/her own techniques.