Apr 23, 2008

To Outline or Not to Outline

Ah, the age old writer’s debate—to outline or not to outline?

Some people say they can’t write a single sentence until they know what the end is going to be. Others feel an outline stifles their creativity and takes the spontaneity out of writing. Outlining obviously works for some and doesn’t for others. I believe every writer should write in whatever style works best for them. It is more a question of personality than functionality.

Personally, I like using an outline. I create a spreadsheet which includes columns for the Chapter, Scene, POV, Summary, and Word Count. I also include a notes section to leave reminders about things I want to change or go back and fix later.

I start out by planning the overall progression of the story. I like to think of my story in thirds. I put the beginning, middle, and end in their appropriate places on the spreadsheet and then start filling up the space in between.

My basic structure looks something like this:

1) Set up the conflict and introduce the characters.
2) Complicate the problem.
3) Resolve the problem.

After deciding on a beginning, middle, and end, I plan each chapter by jotting down notes about what events will happen. Then as I write each chapter, I break it down further into scenes and enter a row on the spreadsheet for each scene. My main reason for doing this is to make sure I’m keeping the POV straight. It also helps as I go back through to make sure every scene helps move the story forward.

My outline is by no means rigid. I’m very flexible and move things around all the time. As I’m writing and new ideas come to me, I’ll add them in or replace ones that don’t seem to work. My outline helps me know what to do next. It helps me defeat the overwhelming blank page.

I’m always looking for new ideas and would love to hear if you outline, and how it works for you.


Keith Fisher said...

Very interesting. good job with this.

Stacy G. Anderson said...

Never thought about outlining. I usually mull things over in my mind for many a day and then by the time I sit down to write, it just flows.

I'll have to give it a go...

Don said...

It's a cyclical process for me. I do a bare bones outline, then write, with most of the things coming in a free flow of ideas. Then once I've flown by the seat of my pants, I know enough to write a real outline.

That's where I am in the current project. I'll probably do some of Savage's plot line spreadsheet stuff as well.

Shanna Blythe said...

I have done both. My first book I just wrote with hardly even an idea and my second I had quite a detailed outline. Both, I think, worked fairly well, but there are disadvantages and advantages to either one.

However, the advantages of outlining, for me, are great--it allows me to write a book quickly because i have the entire thing solidly in my head and paper and I don't have to revise as much!

Ultimately I think for me, whether or not I outline will depend on the feel of the book and what I think I need to do.

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