Friday, January 1, 2010

Outlining 2010

In the great plotter/pantser debate, I’ve always worn pants. A clear beginning is what inspires me to start a novel. An identified ending sets the goal for the entire story. But that murky middle really slows me down.

I can pound out a strong beginning. Along the way, I can zoom through a few chapters on an inspired plot point, a developing relationship, or a curious subplot. I can even weave them together and sprinkle in some back-story. But I always get derailed. It’s not writer’s block that stops me—I could write crap forever. But writer’s wilt—when I just don’t care about anything I write—stops me cold every time.

So in 2010, I’m ringing out the pants and ringing in the outline. It may be tough going at first and I don’t do tedium well. But I believe in the long run I will be a better writer if I give my manuscript more targets to hit along the way.

So to you outliners – any tips you want to share? How do you make sure you raise the stakes higher and higher in your outline?

Photo: Ian Britton


  1. I'm an outliner. Going by the seat of my pants always leads to writer's block. With a detailed outline I feel comfortable surging ahead.

  2. Well, being the panster that I am, I can't really help you here. But you should check out the thread I started awhile ago on Verla's about this.

    There are some very useful tips there. I wish I could say they helped me, but I think I will have to check myself into a pantser rehabilitation center before an outline will do me any good. ;)

    Good luck!

  3. I don't use an outline in the strict sense of the word. What I do is write out (by hand) something about each chapter. It might be only a sentence or two, or it might be several pages. As I do that other ideas (like plot line, characters and places etc.) pop to mind and I take notes. I put everything into a 3 ring binder with dividers. One section for the chapters, one for the characters (where I describe them and their personalities etc.), one for scenes/conversations (which may or may not be used somewhere in the story), one for misc. notes (as in perhaps the history/discription of the place I'm writing about), and one for themes and titles I think of along the way.

    It's a loose sort of method but it works for me, someone who's always written by the seat of my pants. It gives me the structure I need to get from point A to point B, but also allows me freedom to move around in the story. If I make any kind of radical changes, I take notes and put them into the binder so I can keep track of where I'm going.

  4. I used to think I was a pantser until my first Residency at VCFA. There I discovered that an "outline" can be defined very loosely.

    When I think of an outline, I think of those things teachers made me write in junior high and high school with Roman numerals, capital letters, indentations and lower case Roman numerals with so many rules and proper formats that it caused great anxiety. I can't write those kinds of outlines. They give me hives. What I can write is a plan of sorts. For different wips it takes different forms. Once, I drew a "map" of my story, my current wip has a flow chart. It gives me a skeletal foundation to work in, but it is not hard and fast. I can change things, move things, or eliminated them totally. That is the kind of outline I use.

    So, call me what you will - pantsers or outliner. Personally, I consider myself a pantliner!

  5. Medeia, I look forward to surging, not wilting, in 2010!

    Elissa, do you have an address for that pantser rehab center? I may just look into it.:) And thank for the link.

    Bish, I picture you putting that binder together at the beach, pinacolada in hand. Sounds good to me!

    Meg, I don't think I'll become a strict outliner either. But these ideas certainly help set me off in the right direction.

    Thanks, everybody!

  6. Good for you for deciding to outline! It's something I've "planned" on doing for ages and don't get to until the first rewrite. I'm like you in that I have an opening, an ending and the middle gets mushy. Let us know how it goes. I'm curious.

  7. I'm an outline convert. It may not be strict, but knowing where I'm going helps me see holes in the plot almost immediately.