My experience (and, if I had to guess, probably that of everyone else in the history of storytelling) has been that no story survives intact from seed to bloom. For myself, I begin with a tiny kernel of a story, and I work from there, adding and pruning things as organically as I can. It is my opinion that this is superior to most other methodologies because I believe it results in a realistic world populated by realistic characters; to wit, you don't end up with Vice Admiral Gender Studies refusing to tell Captain Pants about her plan so that Captain Pants can plot.

Since inception, the opening of my work in process has traveled about 7000 miles, from Dallas, Texas, to Paris, France, to (near) the Shetlands. The cast of characters has lost one, exchanged one, and added seven or eight different people. I started off without a real villain (I felt that the male lead was villainous enough) and now my outline (which I didn't have at first) calls for the villain to make a devastating appearance in the very first chapter.

Since when do you outline?

Ok, I usually don't. I admit it. I don't even really like outlining; I think it drains a story of the narrative tension that drives me to create. I write in no small part because I want to know what happens, and until the words appear on the page (and enter some "finished" form), everything in my head is only a theory of what might happen. Literally. Like, I'll say, "I think this person is lying about that, but I'm not certain. Maybe they're actually working for Scrooge McDuck and they're only pretending to be with Khan Industries."

There is, then, a non-zero risk that scribbling out everything in a detailed outline will steal that impetus and prevent me from actually realizing the work in narrative form. Lucky for me, my outlines are more guidelines anyway.


Note: this next picture demonstrates the newest feature in annatar, which is the ability to split long annotations into two lines. Awesome, right?


Hehe. Guidelines.


Many moons ago, I wrote a piece that began with an Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind mod called "The War College" or something like that as its kernel. I was super serious back then about doing things "right," so I wrote a detailed, scene-by-scene outline for the whole thing before beginning. By the time I had completed even one third of the story, I was already off the rails, and the story only diverged further with each scene. In the end, I wound up writing a supplemental outline to kind of map out the differences, but I'd say that was a fairly pointless exercise. So, if I already don't think outlines work for me, what am I talking about?

I have a notebook, and in that notebook I have a paper (I no longer believe outlines belong on a computer, ever) outline--written with a fountain pen, by God. But it doesn't go through the end of the story. It, in fact, represents only what is actually written in the current draft with the addition of one or two more scenes as they are expected to appear in the future. These are then updated after they are written to match what actually appeared, which necessarily differs to some degree from what I imagined they would be.

(As an aside, please take a moment to appreciate the smooth rendering of the letters in those pictures. Facebook obliterates that every time I post one there, because they get converted to damned jpg. I render these as png for a reason, dammit! They'll probably suck up all my bandwidth on this blog, but whatever...)

So you don't really outline...

Ok, I guess not really--not as far as most people are concerned. I'm still what you'd call a "discovery writer," in that I write to learn what happens rather than writing to realize an outline. Whatever. I don't really care about that.

What do you care about?

There are pieces of my story that I want to keep but that don't necessarily fit as the story shifts. What do I do with them? Do I attempt to shove those in, or do I remove them and maybe put them in some other story at some other time? There are some story aspects I'm struggling with right now, and I have not decided what to do with them. It's a part of the protagonist's past that seems less relevant now than it did originally.

I guess I'll find out.

(One last aside: I just noticed that the text appears to be--and probably is--a different height in those two images. Maybe my next feature should be a way to set a concrete height for text? ...But, then, that wouldn't matter; I believe those images, in the context of the blog, are scaled to a given size for their appearance on the blog... In which case the better solution would be to crop them to an equivalent size beforehand and... Eh. Ok, fine. Annatar is probably already perfect.)