Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Confessions of an Outline Obsessee: I Love My Outline


oldbooksYes, I said it. I love my outline. When I first started writing, I made notes or jotted down ideas but mainly just wrote whatever crossed my mind or whatever my characters told me to do. And that all worked just fine


So imagine me dragging myself out of bed at God knows what time in the morning to write. I’m groggily typing away at my computer, la de da, la de da and then SCREACH! I’m stuck.

Uh oh. What to do? I look at my blank white screen. No ideas. I look at the dark room around me. No ideas. Outside is pitch black too. No help there. Wouldn’t it have been so lovely if I had sat down and planned the whole story?

Yes! And that’s what I did for my latest novel (Actually I have to tell the truth, my instructor for my writing class made me do it. And sure, I threw a fit for a couple of days but now I love her forever). Blueprint in hand, I was armed. I’ve never written a novel so quickly or so easily because I knew exactly where I wanted to go.


I’ve finished my book. Yeah! Celebrate! Happiness! Until, I realize the plot has big problems. The ending is flat, the middle sags with long pointless junk, and my subplots don’t mesh like they should.

So… who do I call? (No, the answer isn’t Ghost Busters)

My Outline! With a quick browse, I can see the full overview of my story. I find my gaps, slash those saggers and whip my subplots into place.

How about you? Outline obsessee too? Don’t hide. Don’t be shy. Outlines are worthy of our love.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Captain Hook 04.13.09 at 6:08 am

Yes, I love outlines. I use plot ones, character one, background ones. Actually, you name an outline and I probably use it.

Carmella 04.14.09 at 12:09 pm

Depends on the project. When I’m doing non-fiction, I outline. With fiction, I outline lightly and then just kind of see where the story takes me.

Kate Fall 04.14.09 at 1:38 pm

I saw Bruce Coville speak at Chautauqua, and he uses a running outline. He outlines the first third of the book in detail and lightly sketches out the remaining two thirds. After he’s written the first few chapters, he expands the outline a little more, and so on as he writes. This gives the story some flexibility to change. I keep meaning to try this method.

Jarrett 04.17.09 at 3:51 pm

I like the idea of a running outline. Outlines have always made me feel tied down. I don’t know why since it’s my story, I can do what I want with it.
But that running outline is something that may work for me.

onelowerlight 04.30.09 at 7:21 am

I think I’m more of a discovery writer. I tried to keep an outline once, but after 50,000 words discovered that I was writing a completely different story. It is good to keep a story bible, though; that can add a lot of depth to your worldbuilding, just so long as you don’t go off on long expositions just for the sake of explaining the history or magic or economics or advanced technology of your world. For that, I like to use wikidpad.

I have found, though, that a detailed outline is helpful for revising. For that, I usually do it in retrospect; I diagram out what I’ve written, not what I plan to write, so that I can see the entire story on one large piece of butcher paper or whatever. When I have it all in front of me like that, it’s a lot easier to see what needs to be changed–though even when I’m rewriting, I’ll find myself going in some very interesting unplanned directions.

Andrea 04.30.09 at 12:25 pm

Interesting point about using a detailed outline for revision. I do that too – scene by scene. I’ve found it very useful for thinking about the flow of the storyline.

Christina Farley 04.30.09 at 8:52 pm

Thanks onelowerlight for that link. I’ll have to check it out. And I love that idea of butcher paper!

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