Last week, I published a longer piece on the discovery vs outline writing debate. In that article, I mentioned that I “lean towards” discovery writing. That got me thinking: what does “lean towards” mean?
Plenty of writers and bloggers have covered the topic before: does “discovery writing” exist? If so, which is better, discovery writing or the traditionally taught “outline writing”?
This blog is not about those questions. It’s about the discourse that writers, readers, and English academics have been exchanging, how toxic it is, and why such a seemingly inconsequential debate is getting so heated.
For the Uninitiated:
For those of you who aren’t caught up on this fiasco, “discovery” and “outline” writing refer to differing ways of creating a plot. Outline writing is what you most likely learned in K – 12: to write a story, you first create an outline, and then you start slowly connecting those dots as you write. “Pure” outline writing would be outlining a story down to the last paragraph. You can make revisions, of course, but a true outline writer finds it difficult to get started without knowing where they’re headed. Even if the plan doesn’t survive contact, a plan is still necessary. Discovery writing is simply the absence of an outline. Pure discovery writing would be creating characters, picking a premise, and then just seeing what happens.
Some big names are on either side of this debate. Stephen King is adamant about the power of letting characters make their own decisions, and not shoehorning them into a particular plan (Source: “On Writing”). J.K. Rowling, on the other hand, says that outlining and planning is the most vital thing for a good story (Source). Brandon Sanderson — author of the Mistborn series, The Stormlight Archive, and the last parts of The Wheel of Time series — insists that both discovery and outline writing have their pros and cons (Source). … More Discovery vs Outline Writing
“We are gathered here to make history,” the woman announced, stepping forward. “I don’t need to remind you all what this graduation, and the graduates’ journey, entails, but it is our duty to keep you always mindful of the consequences.
“Being the first people to sail the sea in a thousand years was no small feat, nor was being the first civilization to make contact and establish relations with the endless others out there. But we paid a price for our openness with others, and now we aim to pay our debt and stave off the threat of the March. What will be truly impressive is finding the solution out at sea. Allies willing to defend, hosts willing to take settlers, scientists willing to share technology…” She let the words hang in the air. “The possibilities are limitless, but urgent.” … More Old “Alloland” Draft — “Greenhouse Gases” Scene #2
Long ago, our ancestors used the stars of the night sky to voyage across the vast oceans. But when the stars disappeared, our islands were separated. The peoples of each island have drifted in different directions, each culture developing different technologies, each society using the power of the Sperk plant to grant them different abilities. Once the people of our island, Cambia, united under one queen, our sights turned beyond our shores. We learned how to follow the orcas in their travels across the depths of the vast ocean, and began exploring the innumerable islands of our world. We traded technologies with our strange but friendly neighbors. We shared the secrets of voyaging with everyone we met, hoping to create a better world. But then, we stumbled across the island of Mara, which was eternally locked in an arms race…until they met us. When we told the March of the vast world beyond their small island, their hungry eyes looked past the horizon. Using weapons capable of destroying entire civilizations, the March attacked us and began using our secrets of voyaging in their conquest of the seas. We send these voyagers to you to share our discoveries and establish an alliance for the coming war. We are the people of Cambia, and we come in peace. … More Old “Alloland” Draft — “Greenhouse Gases” #1
They’re samples, they’ve been scraped or modified beyond recognition, they’ve been slightly edited so that they aren’t unbearably cringey, and they’re finally seeing the light of day. … More New Category: SampleScraps
My friends and I play Dungeons and Dragons, and we all normally play characters of our own gender. I barely remember what the situation was, but a situation once arose during a D&D session where my character wanted to do something, and another player said that the NPC wouldn’t allow it because I was a woman and the middle ages were sexist.
I was completely taken aback. We weren’t including plague, infant mortality, or suicide in our campaign — in fact, there wasn’t even any gore, sex, or curse words unless the players specified it. The DM was PG at its finest. We were obviously including medieval elements that made things fun, like swords and tyrant kings, but omitting things that would make it less fun, like weight limits and bestiality. So why would sexism be built in to the world? … More Is sexism in high fantasy “just being realistic?”
I hate anyone who tries to tell other writers how to write, who pretends to know the exact elements that a story “must” have. Anyone who thinks that there is a clear formula or clear method of creating a story is diluted.
Creativity Inc. was recommended to me by a good friend years ago, but I only got around to reading it this holiday season because of my New Year’s resolution to read and watch things that people recommended to me (as opposed to putting it off for weeks, months, or years). And hey, the title was about unleashing creativity, not work-shopping a story. How bad could it be?
It was phenomenal. … More Creativity Inc. by Amy Wallace with Ed Catmull (2014)
Stereotypes, politics, and personal agendas are some of the most damaging things that someone can employ during a meeting between a creative writer and an editor. They hamper the creative process, but many of us don’t even notice when we use them. … More Stereotypes, Politics, and Agendas in Creative Writing
Originally published 8/13/2016. Some updates have been made in the form of strikethroughs. I absolutely love milk. I can tell whole, skim, and 1%/2% apart by taste I’m a “discovery writer”, which means I plan almost nothing no plot before writing My favorite punctuation is the hyphen I have an extra chin muscle I can move … More 35 Weird Things About Me
What I find interesting about my history with Harry Potter is that every time I read the series, it seemed to change. I had different opinions, enjoyed different parts, and noticed different things about it. Perhaps that will always happen with every book I reread, perhaps it will stop happening when I stop growing, or perhaps it’s a quirk of the series itself.
But what did I think of it this time, reading it just before my junior year of college? … More The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling (1997)