Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Outliners Vs. Wingers

I’m happy to say that after three years of mucking about, I’ve had a significant writing breakthrough. Part of the problem is my process, which I’ve tried many times to alter with no avail. Instead of starting with a story, I first develop a handful of characters and then try to find their story. Backwards, I know. This method leads to a lot of false-starts and wasted time, but it works for me.

Writers are generally divided into two camps: outliners and wingers. Some writers are a mixture of both. The outliners, as you may have already deduced, first write out a sketch of the plot. They usually know all the pivotal scenes and the ending even before they begin writing. Some writers can spend as long as a year or more perfecting their outlines. I admire this method for its efficiency. Outliners tend to be quick, disciplined, and very much in control of their story.

Wingers like to fly by the seat of their pants. They start with a vague idea of what’s going on, usually with a few characters and maybe a general premise. Then they write scenes as they come, letting the characters take control of the story’s direction. Often, they don’t know how the story will end, preferring to let the plot develop. To borrow an annoying catchword that has become popular as of late, wingers let their story develop organically, which means they let it flow naturally and without the use of harmful pesticides. The problem of winging, as I mentioned above, is that you are more prone to making mistakes. The fun, though, is being surprised by the story as it takes shape. When a story is chugging along by itself, I find myself looking forward to what’s going to happen next, just like a reader would. I figure if I’m surprised, the reader will be, too.

On the next post I'll tell you more about the breakthrough and how it came about.


Patrick said...

In most good stories it is the character's personality that creates the action of the story. If you start with a real personality, a real character, then something is bound to happen. You don’t have to know before you begin. In fact, it may be better if you don’t know what before you begin. You ought to be able to discover something from your stories. If you don’t, probably nobody else will. - Flannery O'Connor

That said, I can't wait to learn more about your breakthrough...

Stephanie Doyon said...

If was good enough for Ms. O'Connor, it's good enough for me.