Saturday, February 2, 2019

Outlining for Those Who Hate It

There is continual debate on what sort of pre-writing methods are the best. Some people like to plot; some people avoid it at all costs. It really depends on the writer! Every now and then a writer is called upon to do something they despise for the sake of their story. So today we're going to look at some different ways to make outlining less painful for the pantsers among us.

I'll be honest--I like to think of myself as a plotter. But I'm really half and half. While I will be the first person to start feverishly filling out character charts, personality typing my characters (more on that next time), and creating Pinterest boards ... I hate outlining.

However, for me, it is crucial that I know what I'm writing before I begin. Thus, a certain level of outlining is an important step in my writing journey.

Let's banish some myths before we get much further. Outlining myths like:

  • outlines have to be in actual outline format (chronological facts is the only must)
  • outlines must be used when writing (depends on the person!)
  • outlines are a waste of time (the goal is to save time)
  • outlines have to be intricate (not usually necessary)
  • outlines must be easy to be worthwhile (sorry, I wish)
  • outlines are a killjoy (not when you find what works for you)
  • outlines' every detail must make it into the story (think of an outline as your first draft)
  • outlines cannot be departed from (check whether it's vital to your outline)
Here's what the first chapter of Martin Hospitality looked like when it was plotted out in March of 2016. I did not use this one much once I began writing.
There are some things I love about this outline, but it became better for tracking what I needed to revise instead of what I needed to write. However, going through the very process helped me get things straight. So, if you're at all like me, it doesn't matter what your outline looks like, as long as it helps you wrap your head around your story.

Fast forward almost three years, and here's what my outline looked like for Simply Jane Smith, a novella I drafted in November. I used this one a lot when writing.
So different!! I got the entire novella plotted out in this format before I wrote a single word. Having it in checklist style also really helped me want to get from one point to the next without getting bogged down in the details. Much more user-friendly for me.

In case you can't tell by now, there are a gazillion different ways you can outline. From how I was taught to do it for essays (example 1) to word-vomit bullet points (example 2), the important thing is don't get hung up on how.

Instead, think of what you want to accomplish (your list might look different than mine):

  • eliminate plot holes
  • understand your characters' motivations
  • develop your three-act structure
  • know how it will begin and end
Even just those few things accomplished with outlining is sufficient for me. So whether you're a pantser or a plotter, pick what you need to nail down before you can write well and accomplish that with an outline. This will help you decide what kind of outline style is for you. 

Treat your outline as an early draft. Revise your outline now so you don't have to revise your story as much later. This is, essentially, the whole purpose of an outline. True pantsers who like to dive in without much plotting (and certainly no outlining) tend to have many more drafts than a plotter.

But I think everyone outlines some in their own way, whether they know it or not. What do you think character names, deaths and greatest fears are? Outline material! Just like setting, themes, and plot. Getting those scattered notes into one chronological list may help more than you think!
Are you someone who typically outlines? I hope this has given you some things to think about! Any other outlining methods out there?


  1. This is interesting . . . I've only outlined once for the first time I did NaNo. And what I did was do some math to figure out how many chapters I wanted to have for a 50k novel if each chapter would be uniform, then I wrote under each chapter three things that needed to happen in that chapter. Sometimes I only had one or two things per chapter if they were big things. But . . . normally I just pants, having the story kinda visualized in my head as I'm going. I do like to know what my ending is so I feel like I'm writing toward a goal, but often times I find my ending changes by the time I actually write it even though it's what kept me going the entire time ;p

    1. Ha, funny how endings work like that, huh?? ;) A couple goals for each chapters is a great way to outline!

      Thanks!! It was time for a face lift. ;)

  2. Thanks for this! I'm still trying to figure out what my process is or should be like, so I think this will be helpful. :)

    And I echo Keturah: I like the new look!

    1. Oh good! Don't get too tangled up in what it "should be like." It should only be like whatever works for you <3

      Aw thanks. I'm quite happy with the fresher look. :)

  3. This is really helpful as I am in the process of wanting/needing to get a outline put together! :P

    1. Perfect timing then! Not that I can take credit for that xP

  4. Love this post! Thanks so much!

  5. Thank you so much for this post! I want to outline my next WIP, because I kind of agree with you--I feel that novels will take a whole lot more drafts without an outline. But I have tried outlines before, and stopped before I got any real information down, because I tried to use the strict essay-outline format. Why I didn't think I couldn't do what I wanted ... I'm not sure. XD But thanks for making it obvious!


    1. You're welcome! Glad I was able to give you a new perspective. Thinking outside the box is trickier than it sounds sometimes. I hope you're able to find a form of outlining that works for you! :D


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