Wednesday, April 10, 2013

outlines - going beyond what your high school english teacher taught you

So I mentioned in yesterday's post that I lost a whole outline to my evil flash drive. But if you've followed this blog for a while, you'll know that in the past I've said I don't like outlining. So what changed my mind?

Well, I made a shocking realization - you don't have to follow your outline exactly!


It's a revelation, isn't it? Outlines aren't written in stone! They're flexible! Once you've been something in an outline, it doesn't have to stay there!

Seems like common sense, right? So why was this a revelation for me? Well, I'm the type of person who really likes checklists. There's something very satisfying about crossing something off, marking that I've finished it. I treated my outlines that way - I marked things off as I wrote them, so I was always following what I'd written in my outline exactly so I could mark the next thing off.

Once I realized that outlines aren't checklists, but rather roadmaps, they became my friend.

When you're on a roadtrip, you're allowed to take detours. You're allowed to stop at gas stations, stay at a middle-of-nowhere motel for the night, get off the freeway to check out an interesting antique mall. Your map (or GPS) is still there when you're ready for it, but you don't have to follow it every step of the way.

And sometimes, your map is wrong. Sometimes there's a roadblock, and you have to find another way. Trying to drive through the construction wouldn't exactly get you to your destination.

So here's my advice about outlining: try it. If you don't already outline, give it a shot. Now that I look at it as a roadmap rather than a checklist, I get so much more done. It helps to have something I'm moving toward, but I also know that if a detour comes up I have permission to take it!

*Note* - I don't organize my outlines by chapters, simply because I don't want to feel forced to squeeze things into a chapter that don't fit. Chapter endings write themselves, and when I try to write them myself they don't usually work out very well. I write my story and separate it into chapters later.

Now to try to recover the outline I lost in my memory...good news is it doesn't have to be exactly the same, because it's just a guideline anyway!

Do you outline? Why or why not?



  1. I agree, outlines can feel like prisons if they're given too much heed. Personally, I outline using the fifteen beats in Save the Cat, and then I just write, allowing slight detours as long as they bring me back to the major beats I need to hit. I'm finding that I actually write the story out of order this way. For instance, last night I envisioned the last scene, and wrote a pivotal scene leading up to the last scene. I never would have done this before Scrivener, by the way. :)

    1. I need to actually read some more books on the subject. That's how I start out my outlines, too. As more ideas come into my head, I let them get more details. Like if there's one specific thing I want to happen (or know is going to) I'll write it down where I think it goes, but I let myself feel free to move it around. My outlines get really specific after my first draft - I end up adding a lot of scenes and moving things around, and an outline is really helpful to keep track of everything.

      And I really used to not like writing out of order - I think I kind of thought that if I wrote the "good" parts first (aka the endings :P ) I wouldn't have the discipline to write the rest. But now I'm learning that whatever's in your head is the right thing to write that day. Maybe I'll do a blog post on that haha :P


Share your passion!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...