The Perils of Discovery

Photobucket In my last post, I mentioned being a “discovery writer.” Now, it’s not all that long since I came to the realization that there’s a name for writers who write the way I do. Previously, I thought I was just “a writer who doesn’t write outlines.” “Discovery writer” sounds oh-so-much more interesting.

Although it still boils down mostly to the fact that I don’t tend to write outlines. Before anyone protests, let me be clear that I have tried working from an outline. In one notable effort, I outlined the second and third books in a trilogy I was writing, in which I had to that point written only the first book. The second and third books have never been written, even though I still like the characters and the story.

Why? I mean, I have the whole outline written! It should be easy!

Except that, now that I’ve written the outline, and I know how the story goes–I have no further interest in writing it.

And that’s why I don’t write outlines.

Which is not to say that being a discovery writer is not without its perils. Working without an outline is maybe a bit like being an acrobat without a net. If I fall into trouble with the story, there’s nothing to catch me and put me back on track. And to tell the truth, it makes revision work–on a novel, at any rate–quite hellish. There’s the potential for a lot of inconsistencies, dropped storylines, characters who disappear and reappear randomly, and plot holes big enough to drive a semi through.

On the upside, it makes writing first drafts a heck of a lot of fun.

And to be clear, I do make a lot of notes on a story, both before I start it and while I’m writing it. I write down everything I know about the story and then I ask myself questions about what I don’t know, and jot down possible answers to those questions, along with any other corollary questions, ramifications of the possible answers, problems and drawbacks, character notes, etc. It’s not anything I would call an outline, though, and very often I never go back to the notes once I’ve written them.

I have a great respect for story planners and outliners, and perhaps just a bit of envy, because I have to admit that it seems like it would be easier to work that way. Discovery has its own joys, however, and as a storyteller, I appreciate the inherent value of a perilous journey.

End of Revision Phase One
The Revision Process (part 2)
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2 Comments

  1. I’m found this post incredibly timely. I’m working on the first novel that I’ve written (more or less) by “discovery” and it’s terrifying! I have no idea what the hell is going on. Stuff is happening, and it’s making sense, but where is it coming from, whose hand is guiding this disaster?

    I suspect the Masons.

  2. Oh, Mark, I’m sure the conspiracy goes much deeper than that. ;)

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