Friday, October 23, 2009

To Outline Or Not To Outline

First, an update: I wrote 904 NEW words last night! YAY! It may not seem like a lot, but I'm relieved because it's the first new words that I've written in a week. I figured out what was bothering me with the last scene I wrote, fixed it, and moved on. It feels great! Now on to the real post.

I've been reading blogs for a while now, and I've noticed a wide variety of opinions about outlining. It seems that there are two main camps: those who swear by outlining, and those who detest it. Outliners feel that they cannot write anything without knowing every detail of their story. Non-outliners feel that their creativity is stifled, so they "wing it."

I have to be a little different in that I do a little of both. I have tried doing a detailed outline, but that ended up feeling forced. Having to know every little detail takes the fun out the whole writing process. On the other hand, writing without having a clue where I am going doesn't work, either. I have to know some details or I get lost/lose interest/get stuck.

I've tried on several occasions over the past few years to do these things, with nothing to show for it. I was stuck in the "wanna-be writer" stage for what seems like forever because of this, but with my current project, I tried to combine them. I did a very basic outline, only plotting out the main events that I want to take place. However, I left the little details out because I want to discover what happens as I go. I want to leave room for my characters to make decisions, instead of having to think out every little thing myself. I know that may sound crazy, but this seems to be the best way to make my characters come to life. So far it has worked, because when I'm typing I can see them clearly in my mind. Their personalities are really starting to shine.

So, where do you stand on this issue. Do you outline, do you come up with ideas as you go, or are you somewhere in between?


  1. I do not outline. I tried it once, and my characters took me in a completely different direction. I didn't detail it either. It was very broad. Just main points. Then, Chase was like, "I'm not like that at all. I'm a good guy. I'm not a total jerk that turns around and becomes good. I'm a misunderstood good guy." Well, of course, everything fell apart when Chase told me that, and I totally threw the outline out. I didn't even want to revise it to the new plan. I just chucked it. Maybe I'll try again someday, but prolly not.

  2. I wing it for the first 10-15 pages, then I think some more, write down a few scenes or the order I think it should go without detail and start writing again. I think it works for me, and keeps the ideas flowing...most of the time.

    I think the way you're doing things is just fine and congrats on writing 904 words!! Key is, something new each day. :)

  3. I write a very rough outline, usually consisting of one notebook page with lots of arrows, squiggly lines, and scratch outs. Then I write and figure out the rest. I find the outline gives me comfort to get started, but then I usually change most if not all of the events as I write the story.

  4. I've tried both extremes. Every time I do a detailed outline, I lose interest, but if I totally wing it, I hit major plot blockades.

    Now what I do is come up with the main characters and the basic conflict and that's it. Minor characters stroll into the story, sub-plot appear. It's lots of fun. Usually.

  5. I don't outline. I do the writing by the seat of my pants thing. But usually during each writing session, I'll discover what my next few scenes are, and I jot down a short title for each of these scenes when I'm finished writing. I don't exactly know what will happen exactly in each of the upcoming scenes, but I know vaguely, so when I sit down the next day, it's easy to start writing.

  6. melane,
    Had to mention that I was visiting another blog and found an entry he did days ago on the "snowflake" method. It's not an outline exactly, but more of an elaborate brainstorm. He links to step-by-step instructions. It all seems so overwhelming, but you should check it out. I'm thinking about trying it, because I need about at least another thirty thousand words to complete my WIP, but I am just not sure where to go. I am going to do a post on this sometime today when I get the time. Come check it out. I'll include the link.

  7. I don't think I'm an outliner. I have outlined a few chapters ahead of myself, but I am a fan of "winging it." I also acknowledge that winging it may give you a pretty ugly, loopy product, which is what my rough draft looks like. However, it's a start. I think I may outline before my rewrite.

  8. Going in I usually know how the story starts and ends. Maybe a few key scenes along the way. That's it. Once I reach about the 3/4 mark I stop and make my plotboard, which incorporates the scenes already written and what I anticipate needs to happen through to the end. The plotboard then comes in handy in revisions. Great post!

  9. I just start writing. I write the first word that comes to mind, then the next and the next. The don't have to be related, but eventually, sentences start to form and ~ ~ ~ I'm off! And I just keep writing.
    Congratulations on getting back into the writing groove. Looks to me like you're doing a great job. ~ Yaya

  10. I'm definitely somewhere in between. Crime fiction, I need to know where I'm headed, so I can write how we are getting there. I write a small summary of the story... the quick 2 -3 page get up about the story from start to end... and then, I crack open Word and go at to town. (this is my secons full novel, none published).

    my WIP is almost done, and I am itching to start to next one. The story has been brewing n my head so much to the point its interfering with my interfering of this one.


  11. I have done both. I used to be a "seat of your pants," writer, but for NaNo, I've been outlining, and I love it. It's much easier. So I think I'm converted now.

    I would call my outline a loose outline though, just some major plot points, character descriptions, scenes etc. I still let them go where they want :)

    Sounds like I do what you do. I like to let the characters find their way too ;)

  12. I do a little of both too! Like Erica and others, mine is "loose", just plot points to get the ball rolling. Congratulations on the 904 new words :) :) :)