Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: Outlining Your Novel

Plotting and outlining are my biggest stumbling blocks as a writer. Over the past year, I put forth extra effort to study and learn as much as possible about this process, to see if I could finally break through that wall. So many workshops and books are only helpful in a vague, abstract sort of way that doesn't quite nail down the logistics. Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland is different; it provides solid, concrete steps to further writers along the path to a finished draft.

First, I read all the way through the book only completing a few of the suggested activities while bookmarking and highlighting key points. Now I am going back a second time to do every single exercise. Amazingly, I'm finding that I've already done a lot of this stuff, but my notes were scattered all over the place on various notepads and loose papers and whatnot. The compiling exercise alone has proven invaluable. There were so many ideas I forgot I had, and as I organized everything, new ideas and answers came to mind.

A huge part of my frustration and resistance with outlining was the forced, calculated aspect of making stuff up to fit a predetermined pattern. I wanted my story to grow organically. But pantsing definitely was not working. I needed structure. Weiland's approach brings pantsing and outlining together without sacrificing creativity. Several possible formats are discussed along with many useful tips and suggestions.

I also appreciated the insightful author interviews, though they again reinforced the irksome reality that different methods work for different people. That's what makes this subject so difficult to teach. My favorite question to ask published authors at conferences is, "What's your plotting process?" I've gotten a different answer every time. In the end, it's a matter of figuring out what methods and combinations work best for each of us individually. And this book provides a solid foundation on which to build.