Archive for the ‘#outlining’ Tag

Discover Writers Can So Outline!   3 comments

There’s a myth that you are either a plotter or a pantser as a writer.

Plotters outline. They know where they’re going before they even start. Many of them know exactly each step they’re going to take in the journey to THE END before they write the first word. They are generally plot-driven. Occasionally, they might deviate from their intended course if a plot element presents itself that must be included, but they like order and so any deviation is a carefully-thought-out deliberate choice.

Pantsers thrive on spontaneity and discover. They tend to be character-driven. After introducing themselves to their characters, they let the characters navigate. Discovery writers seek to be surprised by the words as they fall from their fingers, discovering new insights about their characters and their world as they go along. At best, they sketch a few guidelines in advance, maybe have an idea of what the end point will look like, but generally, they don’t want to be constrained by an outline.

Related imageI am definitely a discovery writer when I draft. Even writing a series where I know what the change points of each book are going to be, I generally don’t want to know how my characters intend to get there. That would be boring and I suspect self-defeating. It would feel too much like work to me and a large reason why I write is to entertain myself. If you can produce a good book that way (and who am I to argue with the likes of Stephen King), more power to you, but I prefer to allow my creativity to take lead. I get a better draft that way.

But that doesn’t mean I never outline.

What? How can I say that? You’re either an outliner or a discovery writer. You can’t be both. Right?

I outline after the draft is finished.

Writing 100,000 words for a book is often a series of sprints. I tend to work on a scene at a time. I don’t always work in chronological order. Sometimes I work on scenes later in the book before I work on scenes at the start of the book. I may sketch out a few guideposts in advance, maybe identify some oncoming conflict, but overall, I let the characters lead me through their lives and tell me their story.

When I complete a draft, I then write a chapter-and-scene outline of the completed manuscript. This is where plotters are frowning in confusion. Why would I do that? It makes no sense to them.

Bear with me.

I’ve just written roughly a 100,000 words that are like a puzzle that still needs to be fitted together. I need to step back and see how that puzzle looks when all the pieces are put together, and a scene-by-scene outline lets me do that. I assign one bullet point per scene, and then I can see the whole puzzle in a few pages.

Where are the rises and falls, where is the climax, where is the inciting incident or incidents, where is the resolution? Is there a ton of backstory, delivered too early? Is there not enough conflict?

Image result for image of a road mapWhen you look at your book from a macro perspective, you can see big-picture flaws like abandoned plot threads, unnecessary scenes, missing or unbalanced elements, the place a faulty ending really began to go wrong, etc. I use different highlighting to note these types of problems on my outline so I fix them early on.

It’s easy for rewrite to become about fixing wording, grammar, punctuation and countless other details. Those errors need to be fixed before publication, but that’s proofreading. Why do that if you might later delete the entire chapter? Evaluating your manuscript via a scene-by-scene outline helps cut out some of that superfluous editing of words and commas.

I have a friend who actually prints out her outlines and cuts them up by scene to pin to a big corkboard, but I prefer to do my moving around on the computer. What if you moved the gas station scene to the next chapter? What if the father’s backstory went after the funeral instead of before? What if you cut chapter twelve, except for the fight?

Where are you heavy or light, long or short? Is your book dark except for a couple of humorous scenes? Okay, but did you realize all those scenes were within a few chapters of each other? Is your book almost all loud moments? Is it too quiet throughout? A big-picture view is invaluable in making these determinations.

Once you see an outline you like, you can revise your manuscript with a plan in mind.

By outlining after writing, discovery writers can draft in the manner that allows our creativity to lead while still making use of the organizational benefits of outlines. Also, you’re not locked into your original outline. You can revise the outline after each major revision, then take a step back to see how things look through a wide-angle lens. Your characters will thank you for the freedom you’ve given them, and your readers will be grateful for the extra steps you took to ensure your story works on every level, big and small.

And, finally, there’s a last advantage to this. If, like me, you give your chapters titles, your outline makes a handy way to do the table of contents. I’ve had author friends complain that this is an annoying process of going back and forth between the written chapter and the front matter and it was for me the first time, but then I recognized I could do the TOC in the outline and it eliminated all that bouncing back and forth. I could just run the two documents and go back and forth between them. I intend to borrow my son’s computer for a night to do this with two screens this time around. I suspect that’ll be so much easier.

You learn as you go along as a writer, and I have certainly had plenty of lessons.

Posted September 14, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in writing wednesday

Tagged with , , ,

Wandering the Pathways   6 comments

The topic for this week’s blog hop is “Your process for outlining a story.”

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Everywhere you turn, you will find someone saying that you must outline before you write or you’re just wasting your time. Outlining is taught in school is THE “right way” to shape a story. You’ll hear the importance of plotting out your story trumpeted at writing conferences, usually by a speaker who looks down his or her nose at mere “pantsers”. They aren’t professional writers, you see. They’re running with scissors.

You can probably tell by my word choice that I am a discovery writer who highly values the more organic, personal nature of writing without an outline.

I could just end the article right there, right? I have nothing to say about outlining … obviously.

But stick with me, because I do have something to say on this subject.

Few questions about the writing process spark as much passionate debate among writers as the subject of outlining. Equally brilliant writers on opposite sides of the field have gone head to head – Writer’s Digest once pitted David Morrell, a legendary thriller writer who uses the discovery method against Ken Follett, who writes an incredibly detailed outline before he sits down to actually write. Both authors are equally talented, so it begs the question — which one is right?

Neither and both. Writing technique is all about adopting what works for you … which may not work for me. Organic writers find inspiration in leaving outlines in the dust while pre-writers insist stories need structure. After reading many articles on the subject and being part of a discussion at the local writers’ guild, I’ve come to the conclusion that your writing process should match the way you think.

It should be noted that writing gurus, English teachers and self-publishing handbooks keep demanding outlines while some writers insist outlines straight-jacket the creative flow. The writing coach I spoke to at guild feels that outlines are absolutely necessary. Some of the writers disagreed. And I think outlines help some writers and hurt others. Writers needs a writing process that fits their personal way of thinking and acting, not what some guru insists is the “right way”.


I wrote most of the Daermad Cycle’s existing portions in complete discovery mode, never intending to publish anything. When I decided I wanted to publish, I turned to it and discovered a lot of story goodness surrounded by a lot of meandering. It was an absolutely huge manuscript that I broke into five sections which are really too short to be fantasy novels. I then set to rewriting and my first step in doing that was to OUTLINE the parts I wanted to keep in order to get where I wanted to be.

So, yes, I do use outlining, but not as pre-writing. It is an integral part of my editing process. Since the books of the Daermad Cycle are only about half written, I use outlining to decide what needs to be added. I also use it to determine if I have action or movement in a scene. When I write a 1-2 sentence synopsis, I pay particular attention to whether I can produce verbs that connote movement, progress or tension. If I can’t, then I know that section needs work.

Since every book of the Daermad Cycle is really a rewrite, I involve outlining from the outset.

However, in writing Transformation Project, I am really creating a brand-new story from the bits and pieces of a couple of stories that didn’t pan out. For the first draft, I don’t use an outline, though I do have an idea how I want the book to end. That’s unusual for me. My other works in progress are completely organic works. I generally write one-third to half of the first draft with no real idea where I’m headed. I let the characters tell me their stories and I write it all down. I skip back and forth, sometimes writing scenes that could be easily moved earlier or later in the book. About halfway through, I become aware of the ending for the story. It is then that I outline in broad strokes what scenes need to occur to reach where I want to go. Then I write them.

For rewrite I read the manuscript as if I am a reader coming upon it for the first time. I draw up a fresh outline so I can see where I need to improve the book. Often there are scenes needed to flesh out the story. It is my outline that helps me to diagnose where the story needs work.

I would hate to be constrained to a set structure from the outset. I sometimes outline before writing non fiction, but I just haven’t experienced any value in doing that for fiction.  The few times I’ve had to do it in classes have been a struggle for me defined by the feeling that the characters felt dependent upon the plot rather than the plot being dependent upon the characters.

As a diagnostic tool outline is great and if you are a planned writer, I am not disparaging you. Please carry on with what works for you. Still, I hope you feel free to sometimes just depart from the script and see where your muse takes you. You might be surprised what a lack of structure brings forth.


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