Writing Tip Wednesday: On Outlining.

It seems like the big questions on everyone lips when talking to an author is whether or not they are a pantser or a plotter. I’m more of a pantser. Before I write I usually know the beginning and the end and maybe a few scenes in the middle. The rest I like to make up as I go along. The thought of writing a detailed outline makes my head hurt.
Then I read this article over at Fiction University explaining about the different types of outlining there are. I just assumed that plotters plotted the whole book out before starting, but Janice Hardy says that’s not true, that an outline can be that, but it can also be a five-point list of basic events. Or a summary of events. Or any number of things that can aid a writer in organizing their story.

She gives us these four basic definitions of an outline:

1. The line by which a figure or object is defined or bounded; contour.
Could one sentence actually be an outline? It stretches the idea of what outlining is, but why not? From a writing standpoint, outlining is a way to organize your novel. If one sentence is all you need (and many pantsers might need exactly that and no more) then why can’t it be the guiding sentence and work as the outline?

2. A drawing or sketch restricted to line without shading or modeling of form.
An outline can easily be the general shape and form a story takes, and the details (the shading and modeling) can come as we write that story. It’s the basic idea of the story, the important parts or events, maybe even the concepts behind those events with no details at all.
A sketch is “big idea” time, focusing on the basic scope of the story and the parameters that story will exist in. Details can come later. It can be enough to know you want a twist after the protagonist’s secret is revealed, but not know what that is until you get closer to it. A rough sketch of the novel is a type of outline.

3. A general sketch, account, or report, indicating only the main features, as of a book, subject, or project.
General sketch. Main features. Just knowing the major moments of a story is enough to create an outline you can work with.

And it doesn’t have to be plot if that doesn’t work for you. Maybe you prefer to jot down the major emotional moments in a character’s arc, or big thematic turning points, or even scenes that are vivid in your head. The point here is to use whatever stands out in your mind as important to the story and things you want to develop the story around.

4. Outlines, the essential features or main aspects of something under discussion.
A story you want to tell is like something under discussion. You have a topic, you explore different aspects of that topic until you reach a conclusion, then you wrap up the discussion. That’s basically having a character who wants something, exploring different ways to get that something or figuring out how to get it, and finally resolving the issue by either getting it or not.

Janice ends by saying:

An outline is a guide, not the book in bullet-point form. It can provide structure and inspiration, and keep a story on track. It might not be for everyone (and that’s okay), but if you’ve ever wished for a little more organization or structure in your writing, but felt outlines were “too much” to handle, try thinking of them in a different light. Outline only what you need to write down to get your story and thoughts in order and see how that works for you.

To read the rest of the article go here.

8 thoughts on “Writing Tip Wednesday: On Outlining.

  1. Great post! I like the breakdown of the different definitions of outlining, since it varies so much from writer to writer. I’m definitely a planner; I usually don’t start writing something unless I have a chapter-by-chapter outline first. They’re usually not extremely detailed, just a bullet point for each plot point. And I stay flexible about it and always end up changing things as I go along. But I feel like I need some kind of map laid out or I just completely lose my way. Sometimes having a too-detailed outline does feel like too much pressure though … There are definitely times when I’ve planned something too much and then the actual story just didn’t live up to my expectations. But usually it’s what works for me!

    1. You’ve got to do what works for you. I don’t plot much but I pretty much always know my ending. And I don’t like to start a story unless it has a title!
      Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. When I write, I just tend to go with the flow. Just like you, I tend to have a few scenes already imbedded in my mind, and the rest I just let the characters talk me into writing. Thanks for sharing this Rochelle, it’s awesome to see the other methods authors use to outline.

  3. I think whether or not an writer is a panster or a plotter is a really grey area. I mean, even when I didn’t write a definitive outline for a book (or even dot points), I still had key events that I knew were going to happen – I just didn’t know the in between bits. So I still plotted, just not to a great extent.
    So far, my best method has been writing down these big key events in dot points, with a little context. And then as I write, I add more events (which may not be key, but I know want to happen), which I cross off as I go. And then as I reach each of the original key events, I add more of these little events. And so far it has worked out pretty well 😀
    I think a pantser would be someone who only knew what the outcome of their novel was, and wrote the key events and little events while they were writing; with no prior planning. Because as far as I can tell, most writers know at least a little bit of how their novel is going to turn out – and what events are going to occur.

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