Thursday, January 08, 2009


I see it come up often about this approach or that being stifling to a writer's creativity. Most often it comes in response to the question of how much outlining or planning a novel should have. There's a part of me that's sympathetic in theory--it certainly fits with what preconceived notions I had before really trying to write. Now, though, I've written everything from completely on the fly to following a very detailed plan, and I think the claim is silly.

I'm not saying an outline is always the answer. I stand completely behind most of the stories that I've written without planning (just as I do behind those with). But there's nothing inherently stifling about that kind of planning. There are at least two reasons why. First, creativity can enter the planning stage just as well as it can while writing. Characters and events can surprise you at any stage of the process. And second, the outline (at least when I've used one) is never a rigid one. If something comes up as you write, nothing prevents you from changing the way the story goes because of that.

Now in some of the most recent conversations I've been in on, the argument gets couched in slightly different words--I would find it stifling, they say. It's hard to argue that. After all, there's a strong chance they would. But at the same time, the way it's worded I get the impression that they dismiss the idea out of hand without giving it any consideration at all. I'm a strong believer in trying new things, new ways, new approaches to writing and seeing what happens. Those stifled ones might find their work coming alive like never before if they planned. Or maybe they wouldn't...but they'd still learn something from the experience. Also, the wording seems to cast a judgment of disdain on the whole process of planning, as if those writers who do outline their work can't possibly meet, for one example, the character-centric kind of stories they prefer. A character can come alive and be just as dynamic regardless of how the writer approached the story. A poorly written character will remain poorly written whether the writer planned everything or let everything develop as it went.

So don't mind me while I detail the exact character arcs of my next story...or while I discover them as I write...or whatever other approach I decide to try next to continue to challenge myself.


Lion said...

I'm glad you brought this up, because such comments have rubbed me the wrong way too. And yes, I have had characters turn on me in my planning stages, just like the example Nyki gave about the writing stage. I'm sure he knows that, being a sometimes-planner himself, but maybe not. Maybe he uses outlines when he does for a different reason.

It certainly seems like people who don't outline have a very specific idea of what the process means, which is comical to me since they don't do it. But, I think the inherent judgment in the word "stifling" has more to do with some (some) of the people behind the preplanning-is-stifling opinion (at least on FW) being pushy know-it-alls to begin with... so I figure it's not in the nature of the topic, just in the nature of a few of the individuals surrounding it.

But I'm curious: why not bring this up in the Snowflake Method thread? Is it because you know there are some pushy know-it-alls lurking who will insist on the last word? :)

Daniel Ausema said...

Well, it's partly that I wanted to understand why it bothered me so much--I mean, on the surface, someone saying that they would find XYZ stifling shouldn't bother me. They're simply stating their experience (or stating what they assume their experience would be...). I suppose it's only been a few days, but now it seems that resurrecting the thread for this (unless it's been commented on since then) just wouldn't make sense.

The other part is that I was (maybe still am) trying to come up with a way of saying this that won't sound like a direct attack. And I couldn't quite get to where the wording seemed non-combative enough, I guess. Conflict avoidance... ;)