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View Full Version : Can you tell by reading a novel if it was outlined? (Moved from Novels to Roundtable)



BlueLucario
12-14-2008, 11:13 PM
I read novels occasionally, but for some reason I can identify if the novel was outlined or not? Can you?

If so, name a novel you readn and guess whether it was outlined or not. You don't have to be correct.

One for the money- No
Harry Potter- Yes
Tales of Beadle the Bard: :Shrug:
Twilight- No.

alleycat
12-14-2008, 11:17 PM
I have read novels that seemed rigid, so much that I could sense the writer planning everything out. I might have guessed the writer used an outline; but I could very well have been wrong.

Here's an interesting test if you haven't read many Stephen King books. I will give you two titles by King to read; one will be one he admits he used an outline in writing it, the other will be one where he didn't use an outline. Read a few chapters and see if you can tell which is which.

ChaosTitan
12-14-2008, 11:39 PM
How do you know for sure Blue? After you guessed, did you then research the author and verify that they did, in fact, use an outline to write the novel? If not, then you're really just guessing.

If I enjoy a novel, I don't ultimately care if it's outlined or not.

BlueLucario
12-14-2008, 11:41 PM
Because of the story itself. Just by how it's written.

ChaosTitan
12-14-2008, 11:44 PM
But my point is, you don't KNOW it's outline, until you do your research and find out for sure. You can guess it is, but unless the author is a known outliner, or they said so on their blog for all the world find out, it's just a guess on your part.

ccarver30
12-14-2008, 11:56 PM
I agree with Twilight... even more so for the piece of &^%$ Breaking Dawn.

RobJ
12-15-2008, 12:05 AM
Outlining is something that is done, or not done, when producing the first draft. When you read a novel you're reading a later draft that has been through revision and editing and may be quite different.

Cheers,
Rob

Claudia Gray
12-15-2008, 12:13 AM
RobJ is right -- your outline helps you put something together, but by the time your editor is done with it, some things can change dramatically. I'd wager that the only novels you can tell for certain have been outlined are media tie-ins, and those only because authors must submit outlines to the licensors for approval.

Jerry B. Flory
12-15-2008, 12:16 AM
I outline by writing. If I were to read a story that is so stale and dry that I can see the outline has left no room for the characters to move under their own momentum then I'm probably not going to read it very long.
Same with SOC. There are some brilliant works where the writers threw some characters together and turned them loose. But, if someone were to be sloppy about it then I probably wouldn't read that very long either.
Either one requires a certain loosening and tightening of the reins at the right moments.

blacbird
12-15-2008, 12:31 AM
Outlining is something that is done, or not done, when producing the first draft.

Or sometimes later: See Leonard Bishop's Dare to Be a Great Writer, where he says: "An outline is best done after the first draft."

caw

RobJ
12-15-2008, 12:41 AM
Or sometimes later: See Leonard Bishop's Dare to Be a Great Writer, where he says: "An outline is best done after the first draft."
Thanks. Probably makes it even less likely that you can tell from the finished novel what the process was.

Cheers,
Rob

DeleyanLee
12-15-2008, 12:49 AM
Why don't you read a book that someone here knows how was written (or wrote it) and make your guess and get it verified to see if you're correct.

My experience is that the reader can't tell and, for the most part, most readers don't know to care about such a thing. All that matters is that they enjoy the experience of reading.

NeuroFizz
12-15-2008, 01:58 AM
If Blue thinks it's been outlined, it must have been, I guess. Good empirical data there. And I guess there are no individuals on this globe who can think out well organized and complex plots without putting down some kind shorthand sketch of the story. And, of course we've already heard many times over how outlining constrains creativity. Excuse me--I have to get my hip boots and a nose plug. The crap in here is getting too deep.

KTC
12-15-2008, 01:59 AM
This is ridiculous. There is no way on earth to know if a novel is outlined or not. It would be an impossible thing to know. End of discussion.

Stunted
12-15-2008, 02:04 AM
I agree with Twilight... even more so for the piece of &^%$ Breaking Dawn.

I think I read somewhere that the later Twilight books actually were outlined.

The Lonely One
12-15-2008, 02:14 AM
Or sometimes later: See Leonard Bishop's Dare to Be a Great Writer, where he says: "An outline is best done after the first draft."

caw

I've heard this from John Dufresne as well. Good advice, I'd say.

Bubastes
12-15-2008, 02:26 AM
Both Tess Gerritsen and Michael Palmer write tightly-plotted medical thrillers. Can you tell which one outlines and which one doesn't? Or do they both outline? Or both not?

The answer can be easily verified, by the way.

Jerry B. Flory
12-15-2008, 02:35 AM
I've read "Critical Judgment" by Palmer and if I had to guess I'd say outlined, though it seems a little far-fetched. The end seems a little wing it but for the most part it's pretty tight.

scarletpeaches
12-15-2008, 03:50 AM
Read Minette Walters' novels. They're so tight you'd think they were outlined but she doesn't know herself whodunnit until she writes the relevant chapter.

So not all mystery/thriller/suspense novels are outlined, as has been suggested in another thread. Even genre is irrelevant. It depends on the author and what they feel like doing.

I bet some of my stuff reads like it was outlined going by Blue's judgements...I can start writing something and then the penny drops, or I write a conversation or a scene, and it fits so well, even I think, "Wow, where did that come from?"

Shweta
12-15-2008, 05:01 AM
I've certainly written extremely tight short stories, which seem outlined, without outlining..

And I've written a few wandering short stories (within stories within stories) with outlines -- the outlines let me wander and show m the way home.

Dunno at the novel level. Though if Catherynne M Valente's Orphan's Tales books were not outlined in some form, I'm... giving up, I think, cause I couldn't manage half that with an outline :)

Anyway, since this is a general discussion and not really specific to writing novels, I'm a port it to the roundtable,

BlueLucario
12-15-2008, 05:02 AM
Thank you Shweta. :)

echnos
12-15-2008, 05:14 AM
One person's outline is another's skeletal framework. Some do, some don't, some fantastic novels are, some aren't...and I imagine, for every novel that one thinks they can proclaim THAT'S DEFINITELY OUTLINED! (as if it were a bad thing or something) there will be plenty that actually weren't.

Why does it matter in the first place? Or, why is NOT outlining a bad thing? I'm curious.

To outline or not to outline...should only be the author's business. :)

maestrowork
12-15-2008, 06:02 AM
It depends on the skills of the writer, but I definitely can sense that some novels are seriously outlined (and when the characters are forced to follow certain plot line when it doesn't make sense, or doesn't feel "right"), or when a novel is so organic that it feels out of control (characters going each and every way without focus).

But it's not the problem with outline or writing organically, per se. It has more to do with the writer's ability and discipline.

BlueLucario
12-15-2008, 06:42 PM
But it's not the problem with outline or writing organically, per se. It has more to do with the writer's ability and discipline.
Actually...You bring a good point. :)

tehuti88
12-15-2008, 06:52 PM
I honestly can't tell if something is outlined, and for the most part don't really care.

I do sometimes sense, however, that a writer isn't quite as good at putting together a coherent plot as other writers may be. For example, I read a fantasy trilogy and the first two books seemed tightly plotted but the third was kind of...meh. Meandery. It was still good and had plot but didn't seem as strong as the first two.

Could I say that the writer used an outline for the first two and not for the last? No, because I honestly can't tell. Some people can write well without one, and some people can't write well even with one, so I really can't judge, not without knowing the author's personal abilities.

I can only speak with certainty from PERSONAL experience with my own stories. I fully outlined one novel and it's very stale to me, quite forced. I don't outline most of my other stuff and it just seems to flow better...but it quite possibly meanders somewhat. *shrug* Only another reader could give me an objective opinion on what seems outlined or not, but it would just be their opinion.

In the end I don't much care except that a story is written well.

mscelina
12-15-2008, 06:54 PM
No.

Next question.

Some people are just that organized as pantsers. I don't outline and I keep track of one of the most convoluted plotlines in history. It's not about the pantsing or the outlining, it's about the writing, Blue.

dpaterso
12-16-2008, 05:50 PM
I'm a-thinking that if the original question had been phrased differently, e.g. "Do some novels feel to you as if the author just sat down and typed whatever came into their head, instead of planning/outlining the story?" then perhaps it would have elicited a different and possibly a more sympathetic set of responses.

-Derek

CaroGirl
12-16-2008, 06:03 PM
I'd be willing to bet that The Time Traveler's Wife was outlined. I'm still amazed by that novel. I think that's the only time I ever consciously thought, Wow, how did she keep all those tangled threads straight enough to make the story work?

scarletpeaches
12-16-2008, 06:04 PM
I think Niffenegger worked with a notice board and post-it notes.

I adore that book. There are no words to describe the beauty of the last line.

CaroGirl
12-16-2008, 06:09 PM
I think Niffenegger worked with a notice board and post-it notes.

I adore that book. There are no words to describe the beauty of the last line.
Yes! I pictured her working space as having walls papered with timelines and dates, ages and character names. Is that akin to outlining? I don't know. I've never outlined or even timelined, but then I've never tried to do anything like The Time Traveler's Wife. If I tried, I think I'd collapse in a quivering heap of Jell-o on the floor.

scarletpeaches
12-16-2008, 06:09 PM
I just want to write something with the impact of that last line.

Soccer Mom
12-17-2008, 01:55 AM
Niffenegger is an accomplished artist as well and has a graphic novel out that she wrote immediately after TTW. I wouldn't be shocked if she story-boarded the plot.

Dave.C.Robinson
12-18-2008, 03:53 AM
I can't tell if a book was outlined or not by how it reads. I can tell if it's tightly plotted, and if the author has a good hold on character and continuity, but not if they outlined. For all I know they pantsed the whole thing then went back and fixed any minor errors they may have made.

Judg
12-18-2008, 04:04 AM
When I read John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, I was extremely impressed how various elements of the story kept weaving in and out, acquiring extra layers of meaning, and yet how it all was so seamless and organic-feeling. I wasn't surprised to find out that he plans his novels very, very meticulously. That is outlining in the hands of a master.

Shweta
12-18-2008, 07:04 AM
Sort of linked -- Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer's Sorcery and Cecelia and sequels certainly read as... if not outlined then at least carefully pre-plotted.

They're not; they're letter games. Which means not only weren't they outlining, they weren't telling each other what they had in mind for the next bit!

MrWrite
12-20-2008, 10:06 PM
To be honest I've never even considered whether a book was outlined or not. I just enjoy a book or don't I never stop to think how the author set out to write his or her story.