Writing Blind – To Outline or Not to Outline

Novelist John Connolly has an interesting approach to writing his highly-acclaimed novels:

My first draft tends to be a little rough.
There will be inconsistencies of dialogue and character. Some
characters will appear in the early stages only to disappear later,
their failure to manifest themselves once again left entirely
unexplained. Some things seem like good ideas at the start, but quickly
prove to be distractions from the main thrust of the book, and as soon
as that realisation hits me I tend to let those elements slide.

I don’t fret too much about how untidy the text may be (although,
in my darker moments, I wonder what might happen if I didn’t live to
finish the book and someone else, for whatever reason, decided to piece
together whatever was left behind. I wish them luck. I mean, I’ve
written it, and sometimes even I’m not entirely sure that I always look
forward to trying to put all of the pieces together). After all,
there’s nobody looking over my shoulder, and my main aim is to get the
plot and characters from A-Z, even if that means bypassing Q and R
entirely, and occasionally having to loop back to P just to reassure
myself that I have a vague notion of what I’m doing.

I’m guessing that John doesn’t write with an outline. I know a number of authors who write the same way he seems to…just going where ever the inspiration takes him.¬† I’m not going to knock it because clearly it’s worked great for him.¬† But I don’t think I could ever write that way. That doesn’t mean that I stick religiously to my outline, or that characters don’t come and go (I’ve had characters who were meant to die in Chapter One that I kept alive through the whole book), but I need it to keep me more or less pointed in the right direction. I would find writing a book, particularly a mystery novel, very difficult to do on-the-fly.

I write with what I call “living outlines.” I talk more about it in this video, recorded live with Brash co-founder Joel Goldman, at an event in May at Riverpark Center in Owensboro Kentucky: