Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A to Z Challenge: O is for Outline



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?  

39 comments:

JeffO said...

I wing it. However, if I get stuck I will try to do some sort of outlining in an effort to create a logical progression for 'what comes next'. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. At this point I have not tried outlining a whole novel before starting to write, but I won't say "I'll never do that." I'm certainly willing to try it.

Jaye Robin Brown said...

I fall in the middle but find an outline to be very helpful, if only a loose one.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm a big fan of the outline. If I didn't have one, my writing would wander into the desert and never return.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I outline the major plot points--the hook, the end of Act I, the midpoint of Act II, the end of Act II and the climax. I have ideas of some of the chapters in between but at least in this new project, I have to come up with some of them as I go. So I guess I'm in between panster & outliner.

jp said...

It is easy for me because I write from memories so the story is already written and just awaits my interpretation.

The only flaw is that distant memories act as reminders of subsequent memories and I find myself forever going back to fill in blanks.

Freya Morris said...

Am definitely a planner and plotter.

Annalisa Crawford said...

I'm a committed pantser. Regularly scenes I thought belonged on the first page end up in chapter 5, or a scene written for one character will change to another character - and be better for it.

Sometimes I wish I could plan a little bit, because when the ideas freeze the whole WIP comes to a grinding halt!

Liza said...

I am more of a panster...but I do take the time to write character descriptions, and in my current project I had to write a time line. I am starting to understand how outlines can be helpful, but I haven't made the move yet. They horrified me in high school. It's hard to get over.

L.G.Smith said...

I've always considered myself a hybrid. I'm more the type who writes as far as I can see with the headlights. I follow the street signs to get where I'm going, but I don't rely on a map, er outline. Sometimes I enjoy being lost off the main roads. That's where all the weird tourist attractions are.

Matthew MacNish said...

I can't even imagine pantsing a novel. Just the idea of it leaves me numb.

Stephsco said...

I am apparently a panster, but am desperate to be a planner and outliner. I don't think I can handle writing another story the way I've gone about my last two. I just get so antsy to start writing that I stop after making a few rough notes at the start to just dive in.

I loved hearing YA author Claudia Gray describe her outlining. She had a 20k word outline for one of her books. WOW. I think she must just write vague snippets and fill in later.

I'm working in techniques to be a better planner.

Stopping by for A to Z, great post!

cleemckenzie said...

I call myself a semi-panster. I do a lot of pre-thinking about the characters before I write, then I write the elevator pitch, then might lay out beginning, middle and end ideas.

Interesting how everyone works so differently.

Angela Orlowski-Peart said...

I do both, and it is the best way for me. A simple outline gives my fertile imagination a direction in which a novel needs to go. The rest is done allowing the pantsing part of my brain work.

Kittie Howard said...

Loved how you described both camps. I'm somewhere in the middle as I get antsy if things are too outlined, not just with writing, save for housework -- gotta get those dust bunnies while the getting's good!

Carrie-Anne said...

I've needed outlines/short notes for each chapter for my Russian novels, since they're so long. I didn't start out with much of a real plot trajectory for the first one, but when I began my second major writing period of it, I wrote down short notes for what was going to happen in each chapter. I did the same for the second book shortly after finishing the first one, and a good thing, too, since I didn't write the sequel for a good decade after that! I also have notes for the future third book. It also helps that I have such a voluminous memory and can keep entire books memorized in my head backwards and forwards for years.

Hektor Karl said...

I'm working hard at becoming a better outliner. It's proving to be a slow process. :)

Tracy said...

I am not an outliner but would like to try it for a book I'm working on; just wondering if it would be 'easier' but since I've never done it I wouldn't even know how to go aobut the outlining/story map...so I'm sitting on the fence!

The Golden Eagle said...

I'm a bit of a hybrid--if I've got an idea that's banging on the door demanding to be written then I'll type out a chapter or two (rarely more) and then outline the rest of the story. Though most of the time I like to outline story from beginning to end before any writing is done.


The Golden Eagle
The Eagle's Aerial Perspective

Eva Gallant said...

I've been a pantster up until now, but I'm going to try making an outline before I start my next book.

Donna B. McNicol said...

Guess I'm a plotting pantser...LOL! I write a very basic outline, enough to get started. Then I write and before I know it, my outline is changing, evolving. This is for my novels...anything shorter, I'm a definite pantser.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I'm a hybrid. I like a loose "outline" and by outline I mean a bunch of notes in a notebook that I later try to organize. Right now, I'm experimenting with index cards and story boarding in order to help me set up my plot better (something I usually struggle with.)

Cherie Reich said...

I'm definitely a plotter. When I try to pants my way through a story, I either get stuck or have to go back to about chapter three and rewrite all I had already written.

Baggy Books said...

Fascinating post.

Thanks for visiting my blog too - yes, I review thrillers!

Tracy Jo said...

I am a freebird but I think it would be good for me to try doing an outline. I also need to be better with my notes...ideas come and I lose them because I didn't write them down! :-)

Jennifer Hillier said...

I wish I was a plotter - I really believe it would make my life so much easier. But the most I can manage is to plan a scene or two ahead.

Kills me in revisions, though.

Inger said...

Thanks for visiting and following my blog. When I worked, I was a technical writer. I've never attempted to write a novel, but I think it would be easiest if it were done in a hybrid fashion.

DeniseCovey_L_Aussie said...

Hello Nancy. We haven't crossed paths this A-Z yet. Well, I admire you so much being such an intricate plotter. I started off as a pantser, but now I've moved more to the middle, a bit of both.

Denise

Lynda R Young said...

I used to be a pantser. I scoffed at outlining, believing it took away my creativity. Then I tried it. I've never gone back! I'm now a thorough plotter through and through.

Nick Wilford said...

I'm a bit in the middle. I do sketch out a rough outline to get me started, give some form to the ideas. I did that for my WIP but then found it was quite restricting referring to the notes while writing. When I have new ideas for what could happen further down the line, I add them to the old notes, but then I'm struck by how much what I've written differs from what I originally planned. I think it's better, too! If I do get stuck I could always pull the notes out and thrash them about a bit.

Leslie Rose said...

I'm a reformed pantser. I am like you in that I make pages and pages of notes first. Now I work those into an outline before I let 'er rip on the wriing.

Cynthia said...

Thanks for visiting my blog earlier today. I'm following you right back. Bay Area girls, woot woot!

I do make a rough outline but I don't necessarily follow it completely. Sometimes I decide to change my story as I go along, and then I'd revisit my outline to make changes there accordingly.

Melodie Wright said...

I think we're pretty similar. I do write a blurb before even starting a WIP, just to see if it's a viable idea. Then I write kind of a synopsis that I follow. Each chapter is pantsed, but I know where I need to end up each day.

Lauren S. said...

It usually depends on how well thought out the story is in my mind. If I know what's going to happen, I'll write it down. If not, I just write and don't worry about it!

Lisa Regan said...

I write first and ask questions later! LOL. I usually write a scene or a chapter and then if it feels good, I build the plot using and outline and THEN I return to the actual writing. I never used an outline before but then my work was all over the place so I started using them once I had a little something to work with.

Alexis Bass Writes said...

I'm a bit of both - I start out just writing and then create an outline to fill in plot holes. ;)

Cheryl Klarich said...

Hmmm... I think I'm both... of course it would help if I would just... WRITE!!!

The Rambling Pages said...

I think I am somewhere inbetween, I will get a general outline, start writing and then find there are stars and numbers all over it as I decided to move things around or add more in - I am also horrendously old fashioned and still write first onto paper before the computer!

Nicky Wells said...

I'm an outliner. For one simple reason. My very first novel was written almost twenty years ago in mad, unstructured frenzy. When I re-read it, I recognised that the story was good, but the plot was full of holes, the characters contraticted themselves (one even changed eye colour), and the romantic tension that could have been building didn't because I was bumbling through it all. Yes, I was much younger then but looking back, I learnt a big lesson.

Now, I outline meticulously. I hand draw/write the original concept, usually on a single sheet of paper. Then I go large, as large as the dining room table will let me, and I populate the original outline/flowchart with scenes and comments, using multi coloured post its. From there, I write the character profiles and a one-page synopsis for each major event; I usually end up with between 20 and 30 pages. I do all my research when I write these mini symopses, and I add notes (e.g. regarding restaurants, travel, events, illnesses, recording studios, that kind of thigs) in the margin. And THEN I write. This process takes me four to six weeks, but I find it's worth it.

Does this mean I never improvise? Of course not, my characters run away with me (and each other) all the time, and it's great fun. But I have the 'red thread' to rein them in and bring them back on track. It is extremely rare that I change the direction of the plot, although of course I won't rule it out if I can improve the story.

Joylene said...

I don't get serious about outlining until I run into trouble. You'd think I'd learn by now to be prepared ahead of time. LOL. Oh, no, not me. I'm a fly by the seat of my pants kinda of writer.

Great post, Nancy. This series has been great.