Discovery or outline writing?

Tonight I sat in on a conference call with Ken Scholes, author of the Psalms of Isaac series. I’ve read the first two books, and quite enjoyed them, and so wanted to hear a little bit from Ken.

He functions differently as a writer, it seems, than a lot of writers I’ve talked with. Many of them are outline writers and do extensive world building before they start writing. Ken, on the other hand, is more of an exploratory, discovery writer. He doesn’t do much, if any pre-writing. He just sits down and begins to write the book.

Which is interesting, because I would have sworn he was an outline writer. Some writers I read and think, “This writer does not outline.” Or, “This one outlines.” It seems like I can just feel it from how the story progresses. To me, it seems that the stories of outline writers are more direct. They progress towards the “surprising yet inevitable” conclusion, whereas the discovery writers seem to meander toward a surprising conclusion.

I’d be willing to bet that Jay Lake is a discovery writer. The ending to his book, Green, was really awesome, but totally not something I saw coming. I’d also bet that Felix Gilman and Daniel Abraham are discovery writers. I’ve only read one book from each of these guys, so maybe I’m wrong.

Not that it matters. Whatever kind of process works for a writer is what the writer should do. But I do think that it affects the story and how the story unfolds.

Are you a discover writer or an outline writer?


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