Monday, April 14, 2008

Is that any way to write a novel?... And Rushdie as a gynecologist?

In "No Outline? Is That Any Way to Write a Novel," novelist Elinor Lipman writes that people seem shocked when people ask her if she writes outlines and her reply is: "I know almost nothing before I start. I just put one foot in front of the other."

She adds: "Then I bring up Edith Wharton, all-star emeritus on the no-outline team. Legend has it that a completed manuscript she submitted was lost in a fire at her publisher's. The editor asked her to rewrite it, saying, effectively, 'How hard could it be since you already wrote it once?' Wharton replied, 'I couldn't possibly rewrite it. When he asked why, she said, 'Because I already know the ending.'"

Like Lipman, I don't write outlines. However, I do use various versions of notetaking about character and plot ideas, which are very flexible but can serve as anchors during the chaos of discovery. This is true even for memoir, a story in which I ostensibly already know "what happened."

For me, writing is never transcription of what's already in my mind. It's an act of discovery. I wrote a little about this previously here.

Speaking of Lipman, her novel Then She Found Me has been made into a movie by Helen Hunt. In a recent Q&A in the New York Times, this tidbit emerged:

Question: "At one point in the movie the novelist Salman Rushdie pops up as a gynecologist. How did that happen?"

Helen Hunt: "The casting director walked in and said, 'Uh, Salman Rushdie wants to read,' and I said, 'Shut up!' He came in and gave a great audition. It’s one of those things you don’t overthink. It was just strange enough to be a good idea."


Collin Kelley said...

I wrote my novel without an outline as well. I tend to write long fiction in two ways: straight through or in sections.

Jo A. T.B. said...

I couldn't imagine losing a full fiction story in a fire. I'd be livid. I'm writing my memoir in sections, as I compile imformation.
Slow going I'd rather write poetry.
Nice Photo Kate, and I like collins new photo too!!

Collin Kelley said...

Thank you, Jo. :)

Bookfraud said...

i'm really quite anti-outline (i even wrote a farcial blog post on novel outlines).

i don't see how an outline can foster creativity -- at least with me, it just hampers my imagination. in order to take full advantage of the novel's form, you have to be willing to deviate from outlines, and so why bother in the first place? my rule is you should have a general idea of where you're going, but no idea of how you're going to get there.

one question: would you trust salman rushdie to do a pelvic exam?

Kate Evans said...

I wouldn't trust Rushdie to do an eye exam, ha!

Bookfraud, I love that entry of yours on outlining. It's hilarious.

Collin: Same here (straight through or in sections).

Jo: Maxine Hong Kingston lost an almost complete novel in the Oakland fires years ago. I heard her speak about it the next year. She was just recovering from the loss, barely.