My Nemesis: The Outline

For many, many years I considered myself a proud pantser in that I needed no pre-planned plot. I flew by the seat of my pants into my story and let it lead me where it would. But then I started to crash and burn in my stories more and more. I would write myself into a corner, or suddenly realize that this was not at all where the story should have gone, and that I was maybe even focusing in on the wrong character and missing the story entirely.

But I still didn’t want to outline. ‘It’s too constraining. It takes away the creativity of the process, the magic of discovery! Blahblahblah!’ Then I began getting writing jobs that required me to send in an outline. The first time that happened I didn’t know what to do. What do they mean they want an outline? I haven’t written the story yet; I don’t know what happens!

Turns out that is not the right answer to a publisher.

So, after much trial and error, I was able to put together an outline and sent it off. The editor had some issue with it and sent it back and asked for a revision. I wailed and moaned again, and then shut up and did the revisions. I found that every time I reworked the outline, I liked the story more and more. I was getting a big picture view of the story before I dove in.

Now, I love outlines. Well, love might be a strong word… I enjoy the peace of mind that outlines give me. They help me see a problem in the plot before I’m even to that part in the story. I see that I can’t just plop in the villain sans introduction in the middle of Chapter 18. I enjoy the structure that outlines give me. For me, it’s something like being able to take an x-ray before surgery. It gives me a blueprint of what’s going on and what needs working on before I even enter into the body.

Now, that doesn’t mean that sometimes something still pops up when I’m elbow deep in the guts of the story, but I’ve got a better handle on how to fix it because I know where all the other pieces are. The outline doesn’t take away my creativity. I still get to wander through the story, figure out what’s happening and where the story is going, but this time I’m in control of the direction. I have the story on a leash and it is well behaved, not dragging me through the mud and bricks (well….it still does that…).

My outlines are usually vague. Sometimes bullet points of plot points, sometimes paragraph explanations, and sometimes, a combination of both. Find what works for you and go with it. Like almost everything else in writing, the only way to do it wrong is to do nothing.

Do you outline? Why or why not?


1 Comment »

  1. Laura Wise Said:

    I love outlines! Always have!

    Sometimes I get a bit stuck in them, though, not willing to change something when it’ll screw up the rest of my outline. So instead I plot alternate plotlines…and usually find out they’re better than the original. What I’ve been doing lately is plotting “scenes” that list the setting, the characters, and what has to happen, in much more general terms than my usual outlines. Like, “Scene: cottage. Characters: Molly and Fred. They have to almost screw and then find the dead body.”

{ RSS feed for comments on this post} · { TrackBack URI }

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: