Outlining is Hard


I will be the first to admit that I hate outlining. It is not that I think it is unimportant, it is just that I do not enjoy it… Or, at least,I have not enjoyed that little bit I have attempted. I feel that if I have some time to set aside to focus on writing, I’d rather be actually submersed in the story and writing it out. Not putting on paper what I ‘plan’ to write.

I know I’m not alone in this. There are two pretty distinct classes of writer: the Outliner and the Discovery writer. I am very firmly the second and when researching about famous authors you’ll see that the line on this is pretty half and half. There are, of course, also writers who move along the scale between these two definitions, finding a comfortable position for themselves.

The Outline Writer

The writer creates an outline, does research, and lays out a general ‘plan of attack’ for their story.

An outlines helps them think through their topic, it also gives them a good tool to balance all the pieces – introduction, rising action, supporting facts, climax and conclusion, before they ever begin writing a word.

I can easily see where outlining can be important, useful, and actually save you time. Even though it might seem counter intuitive a writer who takes time to outline will start with a good flow and organization of information, the writing process will be like a train on tracks and will roll on forward along the set course (most of the time). Not to mention the benefits it will have on the editing phase later on.

Example of an Outline Writer: Orson Scot Card
“Write a detailed outline. Spend the time on the outline and the story will pretty much write itself.”

The Discovery Writer

The writer has an idea where the story should go and starts writing from there. The idea is that the characters and their needs drive the story. So these writers let the characters make their own decisions during the story and adjust accordingly. Yes, that sounds weird, because it is still the writer who makes any decisions about the characters, but it really feels like that the protagonists took over and the writer only writes down what they dictate.

I, for one, typically have some “milestones” set, some scenes in my head that I know are going to be in this book. I usually start with one such scene as chapter 1 and go from there. I need to connect these scene in my story plot. But sometimes it is not so easily done as the characters like to ‘change things up a bit’.

Example of a Discovery Writer: Stephen King
“Writing an outline kills creativity. A story needs to cater to the characters and that the development of the characters trumps the plot.”

Let’s continue…

You don’t ‘need’ to be one or the other. There is no set line drawn in the sand.

This was a hard concept for me to understand at first. I thought, in order to be successful, you needed to outline, but that has been proven wrong by several best sellers. Also, when listening to successful writers on several podcasts I have come to realized that every one of them is different, and what they do. works for all of them. :)

That being said, I do find value in outlining. For one like myself, who tends to just write and write and write, only having a vague idea on where things are going and the big point behind it all. I realize that this first draft would be a bit more polished if I did even a little bit of outlining. I will be able to see the separate major plot arcs, see how they can weave around each other and hint a bit of foreshadowing right away.

Brandon Sanderson in his Science Fiction Writing, English 321 course, said not to think of it as a type of writer, but as tools. Each type of writing can be a tool because each type has its strengths and weaknesses.

To finish, I have a new story I’d like to start. I have a good idea of plot, characters, and setting in my brain. I’m going to challenge myself to outline first, write after, and see how I fare at it.

To help me I’ll be reading a book a good writing friend of mine bought me. Maybe it will be helpful to you all as well :)

“Million Dollar Outlines” by David Farland. Click on the image to learn more about it.

I have a goal to have this new stories outline finished by the end of February. I’ll then hand it off to be critiqued. Wish me luck!

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