Friday, February 19, 2010
The Great Debate
Welcome to all our new visitors and subscribers! We'd love to hear from you!
Our spring Audience-with-an-Agent Contest is underway. If you'd like a chance to have your manuscript read by agent Janet Grant of Books & Such Literary Agency go to our Promotions page and follow the guidelines.
Some debates are just plain fun:
John Lennon or Paul McCartney (yes, Sharon, we know)
Davy Jones or Mickey Dolenz (or Michael Smith or Peter Tork)
Old Elvis or young Elvis
Ginger or Mary Ann
Capt. James T. Kirk or Jean-Luc Picard
Best Bond - Sean Connery or Daniel Craig (or Pierce Brosnan, or Roger Moore...)
Best Angel - Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson or Jaclyn Smith
Goobers or Raisinets
Debates can define us:
Dog-person or Cat-person
Snowbird or beach bunny
Morning person or night-owl
Health nut or junk food junkie
Vegetarian or carnivore
Democrat or Republican
Glass half-empty or half-full
Cheerleader or skater-girl
For writers, I could add 'SOTP or outline'. This debate is the literary Mason-Dixon line, dividing the author camp into those who write by the 'Seat Of The Pants' and those who outline extensively in advance. Writers will tell you it's the way they're wired to write, and to do anything less is like putting a stubby golf pencil into the left hand of a right-handed person. It can be done, but it's not gonna be pretty.
I've tried it both ways, and I've always leaned toward being an outlining control freak. I created extensive character bios, personal timelines, family trees and plotted how to get from the title page to the end. I wrote chapter summaries and drew maps of homes and rooms and cut out widget people from magazines so I'd have a clear picture of my characters. And it all worked! There's absolutely nothing wrong with these tools. Even Tolkien drew maps to keep Frodo from wandering off the face of Middle Earth. But now I'm wondering whether it's the best fit for the manuscript I'm working on. Outlining just doesn't feel right. Is it possible to be ambidextrous in a literary sense?
There's an element of control in outlining that appeals to me. It's safe. The characters have a certain amount of freedom within established boundaries. Extensive plotting has its own economy which amounts to less time spent rewriting. It's a bit like having your trip planned out by AAA before you leave home so you don't worry about getting lost and having to stay at a crummy fleabag hotel. But, doesn't it make you wonder what surprises could be waiting in that unexpected layover?
Frankly, SOTP scares me to death. I once found myself three-quarters of the way through a manuscript and realized I had tangled a cat's-cradle of story lines into a huge knot. And, oh, the rewrites! (Can you tell I hate to rewrite?) But it felt magical to have the character take me by the hand and tell me her story. To have her push open a secret door and say 'look in here - bet you never thought of that.'
So, I've decided to trust my character's lead this time. It may be a winding road, but by the end of it, I'll know her pretty well. I'm sure I'll have to give her direction from time to time, or steer her clear of a distraction or two, but her story's worth telling and I'm going to listen close and type fast.
You probably already know which side of the SOTP/outline debate you're on. Do you think it's possible to do both, and have you tried it?