Tuesday, December 20, 2011

One More Reason to Outline

After this, I promise to stop harping on outlining so much. I just heard something stupid and had to respond to it.

Pantsers argue that the best part of writing a book is making discoveries in the middle of the writing. You’ll be halfway through a scene when an idea pops up that makes your novel evolve. I just read an article where someone said a novel is a living, breathing entity that will rebel against the author if it’s contained.

That’s a pretty idea. He should write poetry.

In my current meticulously outlined novel, I made discoveries while writing. Not often, but occasionally a phrase, character trait, or event would pop into my head and become a part of the story. It’s thrilling to watch the dynamic creative process work.

Here’ the thing, though: when I sat down and outlined my novel, I made discoveries that were just as exciting. Outlining was the most creative part of the whole process. At that stage, I was dealing with raw, unstable material that needed to be shaped.

I couldn’t fall asleep at night because I had to keep getting up and scribbling in my notebook.

Whether I come up with the ideas before I start writing or after, I’m still coming up with ideas. When I outline, I’m still watching the dynamic creative process, and it’s just as thrilling.

The only difference is I don’t have to go back and fix thousands of words that no longer work with my new idea.

When people say outlining stunts their creativity, I think they just don’t know how to outline. Planning what will happen in your novel should be invigorating. You should be more excited about your book while outlining than at any other stage because it’s new, and you can already see how beautiful it’s going to be.

At least, that’s how it is for me.


  1. This outlining debate has been going on for some time. I've written four novels and I don't outline. Often I wish I had because I can see that outlining could save me a lot of time. Back when I was a professional artist I never made drawings for complicated paintings. I shouldn't say never because I did make a few, but the drawings were never developed into anything. If I knew where I was going from the beginning there was no journey, no excitement of exploration, and I became bored. I think each writer needs to figure out what works best for them. I envy the way outlining obviously helps you focus.

  2. This is so interesting. I have no idea what I am. I think I might fall between plotter and pantser because I do know, in a general sense, what's going to happen in my novel. I know the beginning, what's going to happen, what the theme (premise or what-have-you) is, the genre. And I know the end (it might change, but when I start out I know what it is). Things change as I work because I find discrepancies or unlikely coincidences that have to be altered. Characters names change too as they "get fleshed out". It's certainly not boring and I find the whole process dynamic and exciting.

  3. I outline the key points but if I outline too much, the story doesn't feel as alive to me.

  4. And that last line points out exactly what I was going to say. This is the most exciting and creative way for you and, while I largely agree that outlining is important, I found it is most exciting and creative for me when I have just a basic outline. I find this works better for me because the splurg of ideas I get while writing, keep me writing. Of course, the basic outline are the seeds of the new ideas.


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