Home > Questions to Ponder, Work-related, Writing and Poetry > Whether to Outline or Not

Whether to Outline or Not

 

Every writer has her own process for writing. Some outline at the very beginning, some begin the outline at the mid-point, others go through the manuscript when the first draft is finished just to see if the story doubles back on itself or wanders too far afield. Still others never write an outline on paper, but rather, keep a running outline in mind.

There are different types of outlines for different writers and projects. If a student is fortunate during her school days, she’s taught how to outline a chapter in a book, for instance, as a way to study effectively. She learns about themes and topic sentences; about beginning, middles, and ends; and about writing conclusions that tie up all the loose ends.

This type of outline for story, essay, memoir, etc., can create an extensive piece of work. Detail is fantastic, if you have the time for it. Often a writer doesn’t have such a luxury as time and must develop the quick and dirty outline template for specific types of manuscript.

A template is a format, pre-staged, which allows the writer to plug in the information for use in the article or story. For instance, with travel writing there are a possible seven types of templates, each dictated by a specific type of travel article.

Once the template is ready, the writer has only to fill in the blanks provided by the template. Oddly enough, this type of template needn’t be a physical one. It could, just as easily, occupy a page in a notebook used for writing specs. The critical issue is to have specs for use in a particular type of article, such as a destination article.

Mysteries, westerns, romances, and fantasies can all use templates, albeit short ones, to get particulars in place so that the writer knows the direction intended, people involved, and final results. Any kind of genre is able to use a template; because, in fiction, there are a finite number of plots; in non-fiction, criteria follow particular channels of information presentation to be effective.

“Organic” writers—those who sit down and start writing without planning anything beforehand—often never use an outline; at least, consciously. Instead, they allow their subconscious to drive the story to its conclusion. The process can seem chaotic to the wordsmith who is meticulous in planning a story.

NaNoWriMo is a challenge for all writers, but those who work from an organic perspective do well with it. For them, revision is the time for taking the story apart, moving sections, rebuilding point connectors, and devising a smooth road for their words.

Allow preliminary scenes to build the story outline. Tagging along behind the organic writers are those who create individual scenes that stand alone while developing the story. Scenes sometimes erupt in the writer’s mind, demanding to be put down on paper. These scenes may have nothing to do with what’s gone before and have no obvious relationship with the mental plotline the writer is using.

Many of these writers create an outline with these scenes. This type of outline allows the writer to see the story in broader scope than a simple line draft. A scene outline shows the writer big chunks of action, dialogue, character development, etc. Writers who think in pictures can get great satisfaction out of this type of planning, since it encourages an intimacy with the story that is often lacking in other types of outline structure; it requires real writing, not just a listing of points.

Character outlines can help build subplots that work effectively with the overall story. Any character has depth if the writer looks for it. Taking the time to explore principle characters through this process can help find both flaws and virtues in each character. In order to be perceived as real by the reader, depth of character is necessary.

Flaws, attitudes, deep moral beliefs also help steer the character into subplots if the writer allows for it. Asking the character pertinent questions about the whys, wherefores, how’s, and all the rest of her life can find answers that take the story to interesting places with exciting results.

Outlines can be as elaborate or skimpy as the writer chooses to make them. If you talk to epic fantasy writers, you’ll probably hear about all of the different types of outlines each uses to keep their overall story straight. You’ll also hear about how many times those outlines are revised to take into account unexpected changes that come up during the story writing process.

Fluidity is the name of the game when using these devices to help the writer stay on point. Each outline will change to some degree after it’s written, just as every story changes during revisions. The importance of this listing of targets to hit with your writing, whether kept as mental notes or in a notebook the size of Kansas, shows itself when the story is finished, polished, and submitted to the editor.

Advertisements
  1. claudsy
    March 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    Thanks for the pingback.

  2. claudsy
    March 28, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Thanks for the pingback. I like your mission.

  1. March 23, 2012 at 1:52 pm
  2. March 28, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: