Planning or Winging It?

Justine Larbalestier is discussing writing methods on her blog — namely, outlining v winging it. She is a winger (or Seat-Of-The-Pants-er), while her friend is an outliner.

I am very much a member of Camp Outline. I've done it both ways. The Singer of All Songs was winged (wung?). I began with one scene in my head: a girl on top of a high tower, gazing out over a snowy, desolate landscape, who sees the body of an injured stranger being carried toward the buildings where she lives. I didn't know who the girl was, where she lived, why she was in such isolation, or what had happened to the stranger. I kept writing in order to find all of that out. The result was that much of Singer (and thus much of the Chanters of Tremaris trilogy) welled up directly from my unconscious, which meant that Calwyn, in particular, contains a lot of me. Surprisingly, this has turned out to be a Good Thing.

On the other hand, both my Girlfriend Fiction books were planned in some detail before a word was written. This was partly because they were written to fairly strict requirements, and partly because a whole truckload of people had to approve them before they handed over any money. Both books were very quick and easy to write, because if I got stuck, I could refer to my outline and see exactly what I had to write next, which removed a huge amount of pressure to think up stuff.

But I think that Justine is right when she says that both approaches are variations on the same process — the same decisions have to be made, but they're made at different stages, and in different ways. Personally, I love the security of having an outline before I start to write. I like to know that there won't be any nasty ambushes (like a whopping great hole in the plot) halfway through. But at the same time, I don't like my outline to be too detailed. Because if I know everything before I start, there's no reason for me to keep writing. There's nothing left for me to discover. Because I write for the same reason I read: to find out what happens next.