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    To Outline or Not to Outline

    michelleMichele Karlsberg: Do you work to an outline or plot, or do you prefer just to see where an idea takes you?

    Lucy Jane Bledsoe: I wish I could work from an outline. I often try. I put a big roman numeral I, followed by a period at the top of a yellow, lined legal pad. I write, “Protagonist confronts tormenter.”

    Then all hell breaks loose. I think of an image I want to include. I think of what other characters are doing. Crucial scraps of dialogue whisper, or maybe shout, in my ear. I have to write all this down, of course. A few minutes later, that first page of the yellow, lined legal pad is a mish-mash of notes in no particular order.


    The problem is that the structure of a novel is three-dimensional, not linear. There is no point A and point B and point C, as much as I want there to be. Every idea, image, and action circles back on previous ones and future ones. Ideally, all the bits in a novel come together in an organic whole. The meaning and heart and ideas of the story resonate on every page. Ideally, I say.

    wordsSo, after I get that messy page of notes, or after I get 20 or 50 messy pages of nonlinear notes, I start writing. The scenes lead me forward.

    Scene is the key word. A novel is a set of linked scenes. They can be linked in many ways, but they must be linked. Often character motivation is what links them; one scene follows another because of what is motivating a character to act. I repeat this process of listing my scenes, and finding the relationship among them, time and again as I work through drafts of a novel.

    Lucy Jane Bledsoe is the author of a story collection and four novels, the most recent of which is “The Big Bang Symphony.” Her website is

    Eric Andrews-Katz: Although I do not write for the theatre, it is evident in its influence on my writing process. I don’t pinpoint each chapter, nor do I sit down and wing it when I write. Before I start, I like to have a tentative beginning, middle and ending in mind; an Overture, Entr’acte and eleven o’clock number, if you will. I never know what will kick off my latest writingjag, but these points need to be in order before it happens.