To Outline or Not…

Whether you outline or are a pantser (write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants), is often a long sought after question for authors. I want to discuss this, and particularly an issue I am having with outlining. First though, I want to direct you to a really cool interview I did a few days ago for author Kim Jewell’s website. You can view it by clicking here.

Back to topic: to outline or not to outline, that is the question.  Every author has a personal preference and their own views about outlining.  I used to, very ignorantly, think that to be a “real” author you had to be a pantser, that somehow pre-planning your book made you less of a writer.  This was silly of course.  I took a writing class, instructed by author Gloria Kempton, a couple years later (where she had us outline our stories), and I told her about this misconception, to which she promptly laughed.

The fact is that every author is different, everyone works differently.  Some authors feel limited by an outline and can’t take the structure, while others thrive on them, needing that pre-written play-by-play on where the book is going.  I tend to think that most pantsers in a sense outline, they’re just doing it in their head.  Most author’s  tend to know what they want to happen with the story and characters, and even have several scenes imagined already in their heads before they begin to write, so in a sense they have a very rough internal outline, whether they write it down or not.

So where do I stand?  I suppose somewhere in the middle.  No, that’s not a cop-out.  I suppose if I had to choose, I would say that outlining is the way-to-go because it helps point out slow spots or holes in the plot that otherwise would be less recognizable if you’re not writing it down ahead of time.  It enables the author to further structure the story to ensure tension and suspense are maintained at least by the ideas/plot points, if not the writing.

My problem with outlining is that my novels are character driven, and it is extremely hard to outline a character driven novel.  How do you outline character growth?  emotional growth?  How does Sally know, in detail, how she’s going to feel about Harry 6 months from now when she just met him yesterday?–it’s the same thing.  Maybe you know your character’s going to fall in love with the boy next door, and maybe you have several events that you want to happen in the book, but until you start writing, it’s very hard to tell when and in what scene that character is going to experience a particular emotion.  It’s one of those things where you kind of just need to let the scenes and characters play themselves out.

Having said all of this, I’ve started writing my next novel (still untitled), and it’s killing me that my outline is so bare and minimal that it may as well be nonexistent.  I have several things I want to happen written down, and I know how I want the characters to develop, but that’s about it.  I never realized how much of a security blanket an outline could be until now, but I’m finding that there is just no way for me to further plot on this one.  My first published novel, Waiting On Hope, was also character driven, but because the main character, Lexie, was going through the process of overcoming a very specific tragedy and going through a pregnancy, which is very time and stage specific, it was a lot easier to pinpoint where and when things should happen and certain emotions should be experienced.  It’s times like these when I envy suspense and mystery writers…Oh, to have a plot drive novel!!

What about my other fellow writers out there?…do you experience the same difficulty with outlining?  Do you write character driven novels?  Do you loathe outlining or need it?  I’d love to hear from you.  Until then, I need to plunge forward and keep on moving with this novel, minimal outline or not.  I’ve got to write my characters and let them fly…


2 thoughts on “To Outline or Not…

  1. I’m completely organized in every other area of my life, but in writing – I’m a total pantser. (Love that term!) I’m in the middle of a project now where I literally don’t know what’s going to happen from scene to scene. When I finish a particular section and don’t know where to go, I go take a walk – the quiet helps me work out the next scene. It’s driving me crazy that I don’t know how this book will end, but I didn’t know with any of my others, either!

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