To Outline, Or Not To Outline?

That isn’t the question. Well, for me anyway.
The question whether or not one should outline when writing a novel has been asked thousands of times, and is one that I have struggled to answer for myself ever since I began writing.
You see, there are two types of authors. The first is the one who outlines. The one who takes a notebook, post cards, or whatever and writes out the events and major plot points that will happen. Then there’s what many authors who call the “seat-of-the-pants” writer or “pantser”. These writers like to sit down and just write. They write with no outline, though they may have a general idea of where they are going with the story.
So what method is the best? That, dear reader, is something that cannot be answered. Both methods have pros and cons, and there are many successful authors who do one or the other. It was only until very recently (this week recetly) that I realized what type of writer I am.
In 2010, I took on the challenge of participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), in which those who particpate try to write 50K words in the month of November. The rules didn’t allow for any writing to be done before 12:00 am on November 1st, but outlining was acceptable. So, for quite a few months before November, I outlined my whole entire story. When November came around, I hit the ground running.
I finished that story, albeit the word count reaching only 32K. But I finished that story, and the feeling of accomplishment was so strong. Almost four years later, I have not finished another story. Of course, there have been many attempts to finish a full length novel. Some of the times, I had gotten up to about 15K words; other times, I never wrote more than 5K before getting discouraged. A large part of being discouraged was due to the lack of knowing how in the world I was going to get from the beginning to the end. Oh, I had ideas of where I wanted the story to begin and where I wanted it to end, but I had no idea how I was going to get my characters where I wanted them. It was only until this week that I realized the issue: I had no outline.
An outline gives me the opportunity to work out the details, the opportunity to create the story without the risk of having to scratch thousands of words because what happens in those words just didn’t work. It gives me an ending in sight. It gives me encouragement, reminding me that all I have to do after outlining is put what happens in what I have written down into story form.
It reminds me that there is indeed a light at the end of what will undoubtedly be a dark tunnel.
So that is my discovery in the world of writing. With this knowledge, I see a bright future ahead for my writing.
How about you? Do you outline, or do you “pants” it? Share your thoughts below. I would love to read your thoughts!

 

For further reading about outlining, check out this post I wrote four years ago about outlining (probably should have gone back to read it over the past few years) here.

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6 thoughts on “To Outline, Or Not To Outline?

  1. cheerythunder says:

    I’m definitely a pantser. I have a general outline in my head. I’m actually currently doing Camp NaNoWriMo and I’m really close to the end of my word count goal!”

      1. cheerythunder says:

        Awesome. I was doing so well with my word count but now I dunno if I’ll finish on time. Trying!!

  2. G. Z. Kieft says:

    Every time I outline a story I end up getting bored with it. It seems the mystery of not knowing how my characters will get what they want is what keeps me enthused enough to write.

  3. nokotadreamer says:

    I’m a pantser as well… usually my characters dictate what happens (it feels really weird to have a bunch of people in your head, let me tell you!)

  4. e.g. wilson says:

    I prefer to outline. It’s not super in-depth, it doesn’t account for every single bit of backstory or emotional inner conflict – in fact it’s usually just a list of “Chapter 1: X happens” or “Person A talks to Person B about Y somewhere in these three chapters” or “explain about the dead aunt sometime in the first half of the story” – but it gives me a rough idea of structure, where I’m going with setting and story and characters, how many characters I’m dealing with and how they need to interact, etc.

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