Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I have a confession to make. When I wrote my last book…I used an outline.

Wait, don’t make me turn in my pantser badge! Which sounds like it means something way more inappropriate than I’m intending!

See, four books ago, I only wrote by getting ideas and typing them out (known in the vernacular as “by the seat of one’s pants”). I certainly saw the benefits of outlining. In fact, I got in the habit of typing them up after I finished with the book, if only to be able to look at the story from a wider perspective. For the most part, I nodded along when others spoke of the joys of outlining, for some reason feeling proud of myself for not using one. Yeah, it’s kind of weird.

Then COLLAPSE came along, and I blame it for this abundance of outlining. My idea for the story was that it took place over a year—each chapter is a different day along the timeline. In order to execute it without tripping over continuity, I needed to (shudder) outline what happened, on what day, and make sure things were happening at an appropriate pace. It’s not my fault. I needed the outline.

My next book was REMEMBER, and I told myself I wanted to outline it because I didn’t have a clear idea for the ending and besides, it would be easier to get it out of the way ahead of time (seriously, that’s what I told myself). Same thing for MALICE, my current WIP. I just want to know the ending.

Am I an outliner now? No, but that’s only because I don’t like to label myself (it restricts my ability to completely change my mind about something in the middle of doing it). I’ve just…realized that people were right. It does help to have it all out there. Not like it completely solves all writing problems. I still throw in new ideas as they come to me, and some of the ideas that I wrote in because they were in the outline didn’t pan out the way I want them to and will probably be cut when I’m finished with draft 1. So while I like having an idea of what I’m supposed to be writing, sometimes it kind of gets in the way, too. There are goods and bads to outlining…and I’ll probably be doing it for my next book.

Seriously, it hooks you.

Any thoughts about outlining? Have you ever radically changed your mind about something?


  1. I sketch out a VERY vague outline of the major events in the book -- and then prepare myself for the fact that I will diverge from it.

    Also, when I'm not sure what will happen next (because I can't figure out how to get to the next planned event), I will outline what must happen to get me where I'm going.

    Then I diverge from it.

    In other words, outlining is like brainstorming for me. But when the words start going down on the page, they take on a life of their own.

  2. I spend months on my outlines. I really need to see everything first, make sure there are no gaping plot holes. But I'll still veer off course if the story warrants a new direction.

  3. It does help, for sure! I just have to get to know my characters first before I can create an outline. I can't imagine coming up with an idea and sitting down to flesh it all out before I've written those first pages!

    However, with my freelance writing, I've learned the hard way to submit a full outline before beginning work if it's a new client. That stops me from writing 500 words, only to have them say, "This is not at all what I wanted." Well--in THEORY it does. I actually just had a client say I'd written about the wrong subject when he approved the outline. Reading is Fundamental...

  4. I think it helps to have an idea of where your going. The scenes still work themselves out in a panster way.

    I've become a fan of a Save-the-cat-style beat sheet. Totally helps with tension and turning points. ;)

  5. I used to be a complete and total pantser. Now every day I move more and more toward being a complete and total plotter. With this particular project, it's really helped.

    My NaNoWriMo projects every year, though, and still written without any planning at all, so maybe there's hope for me yet. =)

    Bottom line, we all have to do what's best for the WIP on which we're working.

  6. For someone who is not in any way a pantser, I hate outlines. HATE THEM. I hated having to do them in high school, I hated having to do them in college, and I hate them now. I do keep a clear idea of where I'm going in my head but putting it down on paper makes it into this thing that I HAVE to do, and I just can't work like that.

  7. I tend to outline, but keep it rather vague as I go along.

  8. I've never been much of a plotter but the more I try to write novels that actually, you know, work out as full and functional stories I'm going to have to do more than just be a pantser. I need something tangible to guide me at least in some way, shape, or form.

    I'm not going to go to the extent of outlining every chapter minutely. That would drive me insane and probably cut off my creative flow, but at least jot down a general idea of where I want the story to go. Then I'll let the characters tell me how to get there.

  9. It sounds like you're becoming a pantser/plotter hybrid, which I've always thought is probably the best way to write. I mean, aren't happy mediums always the best? You get the spontaneity of pantsing plus the benefits of outlining. I wish I could do that. Oh, and I love that you wrote an outline AFTER you finished the book. That's priceless :)

  10. Feel free to call yourself whatever you wish. Perhaps you're not outlining. Perhaps you're just pantsting a short version of your novel before you go back and write it out longer.

    Forgive me, it's late and it was very, very hot today. I make no sense.


Please validate me.