Friday, October 1, 2010

To Outline or Not to Outline... that is the question

I know there are a lot of different opinions on this one. Many people live and die by their outlines, while others can't stand to even hear the word, let alone use one. Many of us fall somewhere in the middle.

How do you feel about outlines? Love them? Hate them?

For most of the books I've written throughout my life, I didn't have an outline. When I was a teen, I think about half of my books ended up stalling somewhere around page 120-150, and I would just abandon them eventually. I was writing "organically" (though I didn't call it that at the time), just off the cuff, to see where the story would lead me... and yeah. Many times where I ended up was stuck. And then quitting and starting something new. "Hello shiny new idea, you look like lots more fun than trying to figure out how the heck to dig my way out of that mess!"

That's fine when you're writing for fun. But when you're writing to get published? Not so much.

For me, having an outline is a major help. My outlines vary from notes jotted down on a bunch of different papers (back of receipts in my purse, envelopes from letters we got in the mail, and now this cute little notebook that sweet Ally gave me almost a year ago that I now carry around with me). I have a black full size notebook that I also write notes in, and that I keep all my "stray" notes in as well. For HIDDEN (the book that I told you about in my "journey to getting an agent" series) and it's sequels, I ended up doing chapter by chapter outlines. With as many details and things going on that I needed to keep track of, that really helped me stay focused. I also wrote much faster because I knew exactly where I was going.

Am I saying you MUST use an outline? No. In fact, the book that got me an agent was one that I wrote completely off the cuff, with no idea of where it was going for about the first quarter of the book. I did finally write down a few notes for where I wanted the ending to go about half-way through, but that's it.

So ultimately, it's up to you. But I recommend you try both ways, especially if one of your manuscripts has got you stuck in a corner, dreaming of that shiny new idea.

15 comments:

Quinn said...

The way I write is to come up with chapter titles. I don't outline, strictly speaking. I'll come up with a chapter title and maybe write a sentence of one main thing that happens in the chapter. Of course, along the way I may get extra ideas. So I'll just add a new chapter in there.

Carolyn V. said...

I love to outline and then pants the rest as I write. But LOVE the outline. It keeps my storyline straight. =)

Stephanie McGee said...

I do a loose outline before starting a new project but then I pants my way through the first draft. The outline tends to be "Chapter 1: this happens, then this, then this" and so on through the books. As I go, other chapters get added, other stumbling blocks get mortared into place, etc.

This method works well with my inability to focus and think ahead whne it comes to my plot and my obsession with organization.

Janiel Miller said...

Yep. Like the others, I am a loose-pantsed-outliner. (Maybe that was . . . loose-outlined-pantser . . . )

Joy said...

The busier I get, the more I'm inclined to outline. However, I don't do detailed ones. I'll do character charts and have a general story idea and know what I want to do with the next chapter, based on what I've done with the current one. The disadvantage with not having even a vague outline is, as you said, getting out of the starting post and floundering somewhere in the middle. After a panicky brainstorming session, I usually come up with fresh ideas to get the story going again.

Trisha Leaver said...

I have an outline -- it's just filed away in my brain next to my grocery list and calendar of appointments I surprisingly often miss. No seriously, I have not formal outlines for any of my manuscripts. That said, at any point from the first letter typed to the last sentence I can tell you in detail the focus of each chapter/ scene.

Andrea Mack said...

My outlines are getting more specific as I write more novels. I think a lot of writing is thinking, at first, and the outline is a way for me to think through the plot, helping me avoid spending a lot of time on writing that I later find doesn't work.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

i outline as I go.

thx for your sweet comment on my picky eater today :)

ali said...

I have never tried to have a writing methodology before. But lately I've been trying new things to see if I can come up with a somewhat reliable routine. I'm thinking YES to outlining, but the jury's still out. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Sara!

Sandy Shin said...

I generally don't write detailed outlines before I start, but I do need a very rough outline before I can start writing. But for my new WiP, I'm thinking of doing a more detailed outline before starting; hopefully, it will help with stalling in the middle. :)

Jackee said...

Oh, man. I try to write without an outline and it just doesn't work for me. I love outlining and I love brainstorming. However, I'm not so attached to it that I can't change it up as I go.

Great thoughts! So glad I've found your blog, Sara!

DL Hammons said...

I'm an outliner...so naturally I love outliners!! I couldn't imagine doing it any other way and really have no desire to try. :)

Jennie Bailey said...

I outline, but the outline changes as I write. I find that I have to go back and re-outline as I get into the story. Then again when I'm rewriting! I can't imagine not having an outline to start with, though. I'm not a pantser and it would make me very uncomfortable to simply sit down and start writing. However, I have great respect for writers that can do that!!

Okie said...

I've gone both ways. Generally I prefer to write without an outline. But as the story progresses, I like to go back and outline what's already been written...it helps me not only work out inconsistencies or problems, but also gives an idea of the arc the story is actually taking so I can shape the rest of the work.

Ishta Mercurio said...

I'm facing an assignment in which I have to outline my entire novel, so I needed this post! Thanks!