For years, I considered myself a pantser (writing by the seat of yours pants, aka in your undies) when it comes to plotting and in life. I mean who needs pants, right? I just kind of close my eyes and go and see where the story leads me (hopefully not outside since I lack pants), but for my last few stories I’ve found that the way I write has totally changed. Now I struggle to write anything without an outline, even just a short story. And what’s really scary about this, is that I actually am starting to enjoy it. WHO AM I AND WHY AM I WEARING PANTS?
I always figured that outlines would suck all the fun and awesome right on out of the story. I mean what fun is it if I know what’s going to happen? If I know the bulldozer powered by squirrels is coming then where’s the surprise?
The answer is that I still get to fling squirrels into bulldozers and be surprised when it turns out they know how to drive. I just don’t have to throw 700 squirrels only to realize that the window was never down so they never could have made it into the driver’s seat, and I’ve wasted all of my energy throwing squirrels into nothing.
Outlining lets me see where the big problems are and take a hammer to them when they’re still just 100 words, rather than an entire novel. It saves me time slaving away at an idea that’s just not working by letting me see the problems (the window being up and locked) before I start writing.
For me, outlining has become the process of inspecting a car or a house or a boat or some other big thing (What do people with lots of money even buy?) before you buy it. You have to make sure all the widgets work and that the parts are going to move together before you start driving it anywhere, otherwise you’re likely to end up on the side of the road with spiders crawling out of the engine and no idea what went so terribly wrong.
My outline technique is short. I just write out a summary of what happens, the major points, and big events. Usually this ends up being a few thousand words and I’ll write it several times, working out the kinks every time until I’ve got a story that’s solid enough to just be driven. Then I ride it on into town with as few pit stops as possible.