Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My Two Cents on Outlining

"To outline, or not to outline, that is the question."

Apparently it is according to quite a lot of bloggers out there.

I am by no means saying it's a bad thing to post about outlining (what am I doing, after all?) but I challenge the idea that it really matters whether you do or not. For some people, outlining is an essential step in the writing process. For others, it's a deterrent to their muse. Personally, I do both depending on the project and the phase it's in.

I outline when:

  • The plot is particularly complex
  • I already have some ideas for the end (or later books) and I don't want to forget them
  • I'm having trouble moving the plot on past every day activities
  • I'm about halfway through my first draft
  • I'm getting ready for NaNoWriMo
I do not outline when:
  • An idea or concept pops into my head and I just have to start writing
  • I'm getting to know my characters in their 'natural' environment, without worrying about what happens next
  • I'm super familiar with the subject (ie the story is loosely based on my life)
  • I don't get an outline done for NaNoWriMo (by the time November runs around, you just have to start!)
  • I have absolutely no idea where the story is going and just want to play with it
(All of these are subject to change depending on the day, time, weather, mood I'm in, place I'm writing, underwear I'm wearing, etc.)

Here's the one thing that bothers me about outlines: authors, if your characters are not fitting in the plot you outlined for them, change either the plot or the characters. Don't be afraid to deviate from your outline if that's the right thing for the story!!

So outline or don't outline--whatever works for you. Because quite honestly, I don't see it as any of my business.

Happy writing! :)



  1. I'm developing a three book, continuing storyline series and I've found outlining to be important for this task. For instance, a plot point in the 3rd book changed events in the 1st. I tend to find deeper elements about my characters when "pantsing", but points A->B have generally been predetermined.

    Good post!

  2. I think this is a good point. I DO believe there is a structure to stories (in our Western, commercial publishing world, anyway) that should be followed to achieve the greatest reader-happiness. But we all get at that structure in different ways.

    I've gradually gone from a pantser to a plotter, and I've posted about outlining on my blog mostly because I want to share what I learned. There are so many different methods of outlining (and even different methods of winging it!), and I enjoy reading posts on what methods work for other writers. I've applied portions of lots of different methods to my writing.

  3. Excellent post! You and I have a very similar system. Sometimes outlining is great, and sometimes I don't need it. I definitely don't think one is better than the other.


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