The Outline

Here’s a confession: I don’t enjoy outlining. I’m not one of those people who sits down and HAS to know what happens BEFORE writing the story. Oh no, I make things up on the fly. While writing my latest manuscript, I kept telling Amy, “Yeah, I’ll figure out the ending when I get there!” Which I eventually did, although it took me a couple of tries to get it right (not just the ending, I mean. The whole manuscript!). This is perfectly normal, and I highly doubt an outline would have helped me get the story to the place where I wanted it to be.

One time I spent a summer outlining a story I knew I was going to write for National Novel Writing Month. I was commuting to college and spent my time on the train writing out every single thing. By the time November rolled around and I sat down to write the actual story, I was bored out of my mind. I had basically written the thing already, now I was just adding in the details. I already knew the story, and had no desire to, in effect, write it again. Lesson learned, I never outlined like that again.

002 (Small)

When I’m writing, I keep notes in whatever notebook is closest to me at the moment. I do take notes on the computer as well, but there’s just something more satisfying about grabbing a notebook and curling up in bed to scribble down names, descriptions, and plot points. It feels more real to me. And it’s convenient. Maybe I’m trying to fall asleep, and I suddenly think up an important plot point. It’s much easier for me to grab my notebook than my computer. Again, this is just to take notes, or maybe quickly write out a scene or dialogue I just know I’ll forget the next morning when I wake up.

For potential sequels, however, I do try to outline the plot because I know I’m not going to go back to the story, the universe, the characters, for months, maybe years, and I don’t want to forget what I had planned. But again, it’s all very basic, because I WANT to give myself the chance to fill in the plotholes as I’m writing. I’m not sure how other people outline, but mine look a bit like this:

A and B go to the movies

  • A suddenly screams and says she saw a ghost(?)
  • B tells her she’s crazy, there’s no such thing as ghosts
  • A gets mad and storms out(?) or maybe she stays, and gets mad at B later(?)

That’s exactly how I do it. Characters are reduced to the first letter of their first name, and question marks for anything I’m not sure about. The question marks don’t bother me, because I know once I’m writing the story, I’ll figure it out. I just list the basics, no little details. And, of course, the outlines are NOT permanent. They’re just there as a guide, a reminder of what I want to happen. But the possibility of me changing things halfway through the story is more than likely.

I have outlined while in the middle of writing a story. With one manuscript, the beginning was far too long and plodding, so I ended up starting over again, deleting a huge chunk of it as I revised. To help keep myself focused, I outlined the middle and end, and followed those notes (again, my summaries for chapters were ONE sentence each. No excessive detail!) as I wrote. I’ve noticed, also, that when I’m creeping towards the end, I will outline what I want to happen as a way of encouraging myself, to show that the end is in sight and I just need to keep at it a little bit longer. I guess I don’t have a set method when it comes to outlining, besides knowing that I cannot plot out the entire thing in extreme detail and still be interested in actually writing it.

Do you outline? If so, is your method similar to mine, or do you have you own way of doing it?

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9 thoughts on “The Outline

  1. I feel trapped by detailed outlines! I keep mine pretty loose, like yours, if I write one at all. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who figures out plot points as I go!

  2. I’m with you– I find outlining makes the it too boring to write the story later. I’d rather have a rough idea, know my characters, and write, write, write! (Although I like you’re idea of outlining in the middle…)

    • Yes, exactly. I need to write about the characters, getting to know them, before I figure out their whole story! It’s more fun that way, too. I guess I’m more comfortable with outlining the end because, by then, I’ve come to know the characters quite well.

  3. I never outline for the same reason you don’t. If I know what’s going to happen, then the writing process is not at all exciting for me. Sure it has landed me in some (extremely) tight spots, but I pulled through in the end and felt more rewarded! =D

    • Same here. If it’s not exciting, it won’t get written. I learned that the hard way (never did finish that manuscript, although at least I got my 50,000 words in a month written!). Never again!

    • I think they’re easier when it’s for a sequel. Trying to outline a story before you know your characters/world is too hard! For me, at least. Were your outlines similar to mine (bullet points etc), or did you do them another way? I’m curious.

  4. Hi again! I’ve tagged you in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop. πŸ™‚ It’s totally up to you if you want to participate. The details are on my blog!

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