Friday, September 23, 2011

Why outlining is smart

I used to be a panster. I've only been writing for roughly two years, but my first four books were just me and my laptop, feverishly writing plotless ideas. It wasn't until I read a few writing books that I started to realize outlining might be my ticket to rid most of my writers block.

Those big scenes, the climax nearing, and yet I have no idea how I'll bring everything together. As a panster those BIG moments were the ones that I'd lose. The ones I wasn't able to answer because I hadn't given it much thought. When I picked up my notebook and began outlining, those weeks allowed me time to truly develop the story.

So... how does outlining help you? Well I can't speak for everyone but below I've listed why I enjoy an outline.

1. Development: Learning about your characters helps the depth of your story. I spent weeks outlining a novel, creating character profiles, mapping out big dilemma's they'd face. I'd set up things like their favorite ice cream all the way to how they'll handle the climax in the book.

2. Prevention: Setting up your characters downfalls gives you a warning on where you could get stuck. Will your character give you trouble on moving from Chapter Six to Seven because they're terrified of the change ahead? Big moves allow you better preperation and prevent you from the road block you'd normally have.

3. Breaks: If a family member passes, a vacation is up, you're about to move. Every day happenings can't be prevented and when you don't outline the book can ultimately be left behind, discarded, and unable to return because it'd just take too much time to catch up on where you left off. Taking breaks with an outline makes it easy for you to jump back in.

4. New Ideas: As writers we love the Shiny New Ideas. They're our favorites, and often times while writing it creeps in. You try and push it back but the curiosity and excitement sit for days. At the beginning we neglect our current WIP in search of that same excitement. If an outline is in place it's easier for us to return after we've taken care of our new idea.

What do you think outlining brings to the table? Why aren't you one to use it?

53 comments:

Lo Hughes said...

I totally agree! I used to be an avid 'pantser', but kept hitting brick walls in my plot about half-way in. Once I gave plotting a try there was no turning back!! It is especially handy for breaks and generating new ideas.

Laura Pauling said...

Whenever I experience a block it's always b/c I didn't outline or work out the plot enough. Or I'm not happy with it!

mshatch said...

I'm actually giving plotting/outline a try.

Em-Musing said...

A panser I'll always be. It's like writing on the edge...of what I don't know...but so far my muse comes in spurts and is not always predictable, but I trust myself to figure it out. So far, so good.

Miranda Hardy said...

I like to semi-outline each chapter so I know where I'm going. I can't start a book without knowing how it will end. I enjoy writing character characteristics, too.

Anna Banks said...

I'm still on the fence with this. I panstered my way through my first two books and they did well. Now I decided to try outlining for the sequel for OF POSEIDON, but for the first time, my muse got constipated. Only when I ditched my outline did everything start to, uh you know, flow.

For me, it was too restricting. If I get stuck on a plot point, I just work it out in my head then scribbe on whatever's available. So far, that's worked for me.

I feel like a reject, not being able to outline. :(

Creepy Query Girl said...

I am incapable of pansing a project. I have to have an outline because if not I'll sit there staring at my computer for hours wondering 'where am I going with this?' ALl really great tips Jen!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I can't imagine writing a book without an outline. It saves me a lot of frustration down the line, and save me from writer's block while working on my first draft. :D

Clarissa Draper said...

I know I couldn't write my mysteries without outlining. It's vital for me. I have to know why a person is murdering, who he or she is murdering. Where do I leave the clues? Who are the suspects? Do I have any suspects? Outlining is so important to the cohesiveness of the novels I write.

Matthew MacNish said...

I don't stick THAT close to my outline, but I can't imagine writing without one.

Kathryn Elliott said...

I like to outline characters first, then a few chapters at a time. Keeps the juices flowing and the ending a surprise, even to me.

Sarah Pearson said...

The one time I tried writing without an outline, I came unstuck very quickly! I tend to veer off the path, but at least I know where it is.

Deana said...

I was like you, trying to weave my way through with no idea how to get there. I have no memory so as I got these brilliant (at least I thought they were) ideas, I couldn't remember how to get there or where I'd been the further I got. Plotting has really helped me with subplots and bringing it all together at the end.

Talli Roland said...

I'm a firm believer in outlining. I need something to drive towards, so I know all the pieces will fall into place! For me, it's mainly about the character's journey, so I always know what she wants, how she'll try to get it, and how she'll end up on the right path... eventually.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It gives you an ending to aim for! I can't imagine writing without an outline.

Becky Mahoney said...

As an outlining devotee, I would like to give this post a high-five. I'm a huge fan of foreshadowing and parallels and echoes of past events showing up in the present, so outlines are an especially good for helping me to weave those in.

Witless Exposition said...

I always used to scoff at outlining, until I did NaNo last year. I tried the snowflake method, and fell in love with outlining. I'll never write a big piece again without doing some ground-laying first!

April said...

Definitely a panster. Try as I might, I can't outline. I can't follow guidelines because my characters turn into real, live people that make their own decisions. It seems to work for me, though. In fact, someone just read one of my books and said he didn't know how I kept track of each character (the story is told through several POVs), but I did without confusing him at all.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I don't really use outlines. I write like a reader and if I figure out the last scene of a book before I'm ready to write it, I lose interest in writing the story.

lbdiamond said...

Nice post. I used to be a panster, then ended up with novels without strong plots. I outline now--much better results.

Stephanie said...

I used to be a total panser...but I'm slowly learning that it makes the whole process easier. Don;t think I'll ever plot every detail....but I definitely make more defined outlines than i used to.

Meredith said...

Love outlines! Especially, as you said, if there's an unexpected break in writing time. Or a shiny new idea I can't get out of my head. :)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I think once I'm writing on a deadline, I'll probably outline more. I totally agree that it can help in so many ways, but I sometimes feel really bogged down. But writing processes are always so complex, so I may become an outliner someday - who knows!

Marsha Sigman said...

I do a bullet outline, otherwise I would ramble forever about nothing. And end up going, 'huh, what was I talking about?'

Donea Lee said...

I'm still a pantser..I know, I know. I'm slowly (but surely!) leaning towards the outliner's life. I do take breaks, and I almost have to read my whole story over again to remember where I was going sometimes. It's a total time-suck. Outlining is the way to go - I think I'm convinced!! :)

Angela Brown said...

Outlining helps a lot, though I tend to find myself taking creative detours. However, when "pesky life and that paying gig" get in the way, it's good to have the general outline and additional notes to return to. That easily sparks things and gets me going again.

Ashley said...

I'm a pantser that really, really, really wants to be a plotter.

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Shannon said...

I'm a plotting panster. It's madness but it works! :)

Glen C. Strathy said...

An outline doesn't have to be a straightjacket, but it can help keep your plot on track.

Christa said...

I outlined for the first time this week. And I already want to change it. This is why I don't outline. Sometimes it just comes how it wants to come. Good outlining arguments, though.

Melissa Pearl said...

I have learnt through a series of mistakes, that outlining is key to making your story brilliant.

I read an awesome book by Robert McKee called "Story" and also "The Writer's Journey" by Chris Vogler. I use those as a starting point now and always revise them briefly before starting my next project.

It's all about beats and rhythms and making sure your story has all the elements to make it amazing.

Thanks for a great post :)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I'm going to go with April!

Outlining is a waste of time for me. Brainstorming, making lists of ideas ... yes. Actually writing an outline ... no.

I've tried it. The stories are lifeless and boring. I've come close to abandoning stories that were outlined.

My characters only come alive through the writing of them. And then THEY tell ME how to move through the plot. We might still all end up at the same climax and resolution, but THEY tell me how to get there.

ebarnes23 said...

I'm a pantser. I've tried the plotting thing and it doesn't work for me. What I have learned is that it's okay to be a pantsing-plotter. I will plot about two or three chapters at a time, write those and see what develops. Then, I'll go back and maybe pants a chapter or two. It's actually working out for me pretty good.

Tiffany Garner said...

I outline sparingly, but I've found that it helps me most with a second draft. First draft, an outline just prohibits me. Second draft, an outline helps me rearrange the order of scenes if I need to and make sense of the chaos. So I hardly ever outline before finishing (or at least getting a good way through) the first draft, but afterwards I definitely see the value in an outline. Everyone's different though, and if outlining from the start works for you, go for it!!

CNHolmberg said...

I have to outline... I can't keep track of everything I want to do otherwise!

Liz said...

I have to admit, I NEVER outline. I should probably try it, I know it can be very beneficial. It's not that I have anything against it...I'm honestly not sure why I'm resistant to the idea. If nothing else it would be a good experiment for me to try it.

elizabethreinhardt said...

I LOVE the idea of outlining, but I'm just really not a spatial person, and outlines actually make me a little lost and confused. I don't like complicated diagrams or maps either, so maybe I'm just weird!

dlmorrese said...

I've always been a plotter. Not an extreme one but I do normally have an outline, timeline, scene summaries, character sheets, setting sheets . . . Okay, maybe a bit of an extreme one. Constructing a story is much like constructing anything else. It helps to have a blueprint. I wrote a post on this on my blog not long ago. It's here if you want to look at it:

http://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/plotting-and-pantsing/

Shannon Lawrence said...

I sort of do a little of both. I have an idea in my head and will jot down any ideas that come along, but I write as I go and throw all kinds of things in. I've never been good at outlining, but I've been told that having an idea in my head of some of the details means I'm not actually a pantser. Everyone defines it differently.

Enid Wilson said...

I only outline loosely and often deviate from it. I think I'm just too lazy...

Every Savage Can Reproduce

Donna said...

I've tried both ways and have found an outline (even just one sentence per scene)works better for me than flying by the seat of my pants completely.

Caitlin said...

You know I used to never, ever outline. It made for very sloppy stories.

Now I outline. Not tight, tied down outlines with every last detail of every last scene written out. Just a brief overview of what happens when, dates that might be important and what happened on them, etc. That kind of stuff.

Jemi Fraser said...

I don't like big outlines - they take the fun out of it all for me. But I am trying out using 10 or 12 bullet points to start with. This seems to give me enough of a direction to keep me on track. I hope! :)

Jessica Salyer said...

I haven't outlined my novel. (I am about half way done) I did make character profiles, however. I have the major pivotal moments in my head. I have been thinking about outlining, but just don't know how to start.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

I'm a pantser. Not that I'm directionless, but I enjoy the fun of not following an outline. When I've tried it, it sucks out my writing joy. So, I continue to write draft after draft and that process seems to work for me. So far. I guess we'll see. I'll be happy to change if I feel like it. ;)

Amy

Laura said...

I think for me it would have prevented the 'saggy middle' of my current plot, where my characters seem to be currently treading water!
Great post
Lx

Rebecca Emin said...

I am a panster too. But what struck me is that you've finished four books in two years. That's amazingly good going. Well done you!

Nas Dean said...

Great post and awesome comments. Plotting and character outlines give me a definite idea of where my story is going. And the scope to work changes in.

T C Mckee said...

This was so fitting for me. I have always been a panster, but I always ended up stuck. I just started outlining about a month or so ago and it has really helped to keep me better focused on everything. I keep a notebook with my character profiles too but my husband thinks I'm going mad. Ah, the crazy ramblings of a writer. Thanks for the tips.

Angela Orlowski-Peart said...

I learned hard way that outlining is the best way to go! Although quite often I write without any outline and it works. But in the long run, it's so much better to know where I go with this story :-)

Nancy Thompson said...

I so agree. Plotting is the way to go. Still, I could seem to get started on my second book, so I just winged it and and wrote the first chapter by the seat of my pants. Boy did it ever inspire me to get moving along with my outline!

Sonia G Medeiros said...

Excellent breakdown! I used to be a die-hard pantser. The idea of an outline gave me hives. Then I read Larry Brooks' Story Engineering and realized that maybe, just maybe outlining might be useful. I was stuck on my MIP about 2/3 of the way through. I kinda knew the ending but didn't know how to get there. I stopped writing pages and went into outline mode. The more I outlined, the more I realized that it really freed me up to explore the story. I could outline mulitple possibilities for each scene if I wanted instead of just going with one. Now, I've got my outline laid out in a storyboard format and I'm looking to fill plotholes and such. I don't think I'd ever tryt o pants a novel again.