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)
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.
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?