Last Monday, I talked about some of the tools I use to outline my story, but maybe I should have started with why I outline in the first place. I mean, it doesn’t sound all that fun at first, right?
This is a word that I used to associated with school assignments. A clunky, often unnecessary hindrance to my essay writing that I would halfheartedly complete before turning my focus to the actual paper.
However, since I graduated from school and decided that I wanted to do something more with my writing, I have come to see outlining in a new light. While a student, I would write chapters and scenes with long stretches of inactivity in between. Most of my writing occurred in my head, imagining scenes and twists and conversations over and over until they were perfect.
Then one of two things would happen:
- I would change my mind about the scene before writing it and spend another few weeks perfecting the new version
- I would write the scene then change my mind about it or some scene before it that required changes to the scene itself
Basically, I wrote about four chapters over and over and over during my six years of college education. Oh, I planned 5 or 6 different versions of SAAF, complete with beginnings, middles, and ends (and I mean multiple of each for the different drafts). My two twin sisters used to have a brother and a third sister. They used to travel between planets. They used to be more powerful AND they used to be less powerful.
And don’t even get me started on how many times I’ve killed this one major character only to bring him back in a subsequent version. I’m still on the fence about whether or not he makes it to the end of my current draft.
Why have I been so productive and, yet, so incredible unproductive over this time? Because I was basically freewriting my entire story.
That’s no way to write for ME to write a novel. Each scene in each chapter was either meticulously planned down to the the dialogue or completely made up on the spot like some kind of out-of-control carnival ride.
Outlining changes that. Outlining gives me the freedom to plan AND make stuff up on the spot. Outlining is a tool that lets me explore my world, my characters, and my plot via an organized and structured approach. I can still sit and freewrite a whole scene if I’m feeling adventurous, but after years of going around in circles, I’m not in any hurry to get back to that.
What’s great, too, is that I’m still learning to find the balance between outlining and writing. How do I know when I’m ready to write the scene? Well, so far, there isn’t an exact metric (as much as my data analyst brain would like there to be) or a threshold, but I can tell when I’ve gone as far as my GIANT SKETCHPAD (love that thing!) or Scrivener outline templates will get me. I get that itch to write, the same itch I used to get when I was planning everything out in my head, only now it’s more like putting a puzzle together over time instead of crashing through the writing process and hoping something good comes out.
When I read about outlining stories online, I see a lot of mixed reviews, including this article from NY Book Editors that says you shouldn’t outline! It seems everyone’s got there own ideas about how to outline, just like how everyone’s got their own ideas on how to write. You have to find the thing that works for you.
I find that outlining is a fantastic tool for me, but I’m always interested in what methods other writers use. How do you use outlining as a tool to plan your story, if at all?
Here are a few good posts on the topic of outlining for those interested in it. 🙂
Also, since there weren’t really any applicable pictures in this post, here’s one of my dog, Zoe, barking at a blimp high in the sky, to show that you should be prepared for anything (by outlining your story!).