Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Secret lives, and also: outlines

An interesting post by Robert Browne at Killzoneblog: Faster than a Speeding Bullet, about writing romances.

You see, many of my writer friends are women. And many of those woman work in the world of romance, specifically the world of Harlequin romance. Some of them work for a line called Harlequin Intrigue, which is all about romantic suspense, and the emphasis on suspense over romance is completely up to the author.

When I asked my buddy Debra Webb (the Queen of Intrigue) if any men ever write for the line, she told me they did indeed and “Oh, my God, you should write for them! I’ll introduce you to my editor!”

The next thing I knew I was writing an outline and sample chapters and within a month I was working for Intrigue under a female pen name …

Now, I have certainly suspected that there must be a reasonable number of guys writing romances under female pen names, and that could spark a whole different discussion about reader expectations and prejudices and as far as that goes, I also wonder whether any women write Westerns or political thrillers under male names.

Actually, what I would most like to try is a massive experiment where ALL debut authors for the next decade or two go strictly by initials and last names and use their pets’ pictures as icons online and just see what that does to reader expectations and career outcomes for writers . . . well, I digress. The part of this post I actually wanted to point out is this bit:

Ever since I started writing, I’ve been a pantser. I come up with an idea, kinda sorta figure out who the main character is, then sit down and start writing. I had tried outlining many, many times (just like all the writing books say we should) and I just couldn’t stand to do them. My eyes would glaze over after three paragraphs. … But for the Harlequin Intrigue audition I had no choice but to write that outline and three sample chapters.

And so that’s what Browne did. Full outlines and suddenly he could write a book way faster than usual.

Contrast this with Hillerman from the post a couple days ago. He tried to write outlines and just couldn’t.

I feel there are probably three kinds of “pantsers” (I hate that term, please suggest something else?) in the world:

a) Like Tony Hillerman, the writer simply can’t write an outline that is coherent or goes anywhere.

b) Like Robert Browne, the writer can write an outline and finds it beneficial, but hates to do it.

c) Like me, the writer can produce (painfully) an outline that is sort of coherent, but finds it impossible to stick to the outline in practice. Attempts to do so result in EVEN MORE revision than usual, and believe me, I experience no lack of revision ordinarily. The outline actually slows down the production of a final draft because of having to periodically stop and figure out what’s not working and what to do instead of what the outline says.

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12 Comments Secret lives, and also: outlines

  1. Irina

    Also there are people like me who can outline (if they have to) but it kills the story dead, dead, dead. I had plot problems and made an outline in a spreadsheet to identify them — that worked, but it also had the usual effect, and now I’m blocked. Which is worse than the plot problems.

  2. James Pailly

    For writing purposes, I often go by my initials – J.S. Pailly – rather than my full name. I figure if J.K. Rowling had to do it, so should I.

  3. Craig

    “Improvisational writing” apparently has a meaning already, which is too bad. Maybe “write as you go” or “as-you-go writer”?

  4. Elaine T

    Wrede has said she can’t write without outlining, but she can’t keep to the outline, either. She writes a few chapters, tears up the outline and redoes it… repeat through the creation. It’s a weird combo of pre-planning and discovery.

    …. I wonder if it somehow relates to how it is easier to edit than to create?

    Where do writers who create by scenes fit? The Teen gets scenes, and a general idea. Right now for her original work she’s got the climactic end written, and only the gist of how to get there but hasn’t written it all up yet.

  5. Rachel

    “Discovery writer.” I’m not sure I’ve heard that one before. I like it sooooo much better than “pantser.” Now, to invent a mind-control ray so I can zap everyone in the world and get them to use the term I prefer…

    Elaine, I think that counts as a discovery writer, because that’s what I do and hey, I consider myself a discovery writer!

    Of course probably no two writers are *exactly* the same, but I do often write an important scene or two in my head and figure out how to put them together later. It’s not all that unusual for me to suddenly realize that several different scenes with different characters can all be tied together and go in the same book, when I didn’t initially see that. Sometimes the characters can be blended together and sometimes I get distinct plot arcs that way.

    I almost never actually *write* a scene out of order, especially not a climactic scene. I need the motivation of moving toward those to get through the fuzzy middle. However, I broke that rule to write some of the middle scenes for Shadow Twin, in an effort to shake the beginning loose. I think it will help because I am scattering references to stuff that happened earlier, so those should give me pointers in what actually did happen earlier when I finally have time to write the rest of the book.

  6. Rachel

    Irina, yes, I’ve heard that can definitely be a problem for some writers. That’s certainly another excellent reason to avoid outlines. So, yeah, four types of pantsers — discovery writers — in the world.

  7. Macsbrains

    I would definitely get behind neutral names and animal avatars. I don’t know of any examples with English novels, but one of my favorite Japanese manga series ran in a magazine with a predominately male readership where the author used an overtly male name and portrayed themselves as a cow in glasses. I was very delighted to eventually discover she was a woman. (The use of the cow came from her childhood on a dairy farm.) After the initial surprise I realized I had already picked up on the different sensibility because I had often wondered why I was so into an ensemble cast military fantasy that is not usually my thing.

  8. Rachel D.

    Macsbrains: Fullmetal Alchemist, yes? I love that one as well. It was one of the first mangas I read, and it gave me unreasonable expectations for the quality of manga in general.
    Also, looking at the rest of my favourite mangas, it looks like a disproportionately high number are by women, which is interesting.

  9. Elaine T

    I read Macsbrains description aloud to the Teen and she said “Fullmetal Alchemist’. Yes, that was a remarkable story. And both animes were also remarkable, especially for coming to completely different satisfactory ends from the same beginnings. With different villains and everything.

  10. Macsbrains

    @Rachel D. & @Elaine — Yes, it’s Fullmetal Alchemist. It’s common knowledge now (for manga fans) but a decade ago it was a discovery.

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