O is for Outline: a general sketch, account, or report, indicating only the main features, as of a book, subject, or project. (Dictionary.com)
There are two camps, if you will, two trains of thought in the writing world. One—of which I am not a member—is the pantsters. These are the folks who write organically, by the very seat of their pants. They might have a general idea of the plot and characters and where they want them to go, but then again, maybe not. They don’t plan. They just write. There’s no map, only a seed of an idea that they allow to germinate, sprout, grow, and flower. When I was stuck on where to start one of my WIPs, I couldn’t even figure out where to begin an outline. So a friend suggested I just write what I knew at that point, to get it down on paper, so to speak, in hopes it would generate a flow. I did just that, and it really helped. Better yet, I found it liberating.
Still, I am staunchly of the other camp. I am a plotter, a narrative outliner. I first jot down notes in my iPhone as they come to me, but eventually everything is written longhand in a spiral notebook. My notes are pretty complete, only missing descriptions and dialogue. From there, it’s easy for me to just read along in my notes and expand while I type away on my computer.
Some outliners write a mini synopsis, cover blurb, or summary statement to get started. Some use index cards, others the headlight system, in which they have an idea but can see only as far their “headlights.” Then they “drive” to that point and see a little farther. Still others generate ideas for scenes and chapters by asking themselves questions: What’s at stake? How will the protagonist react? What will happen when he does? Do I need more characters?
There are as many ways to plot and write a novel as there are writers who write them. While I prefer to outline, so I know exactly where I’m going, I still write in the moment, meaning I write whatever comes into my head at that moment. So while I am a plotter, I use many of the freebird pantster techniques, as well.
What type of writer are you? Have you ever tried doing it the other way?