The Flexibility of Outlining

A color-coded, cross-referenced story outline.

A massively detailed outline. It *ahem* may or may not be color-coded and cross-referenced.

I’ve done… er… a few blog posts on outlining in my time, to put it mildly. (I’ll link them all at the end of this post.)

If you’re new to the writing scene, let me warn you now: you are going to hear a lot about why outlines are bad, or why outlines will solve all your problems, or why if you’re doing anything other than writing the actual story, you’re wasting your time.

Ignore all that.

If you’re an outliner by nature, you’ll figure it out pretty quickly. Your stories will likely wander otherwise, and there won’t be a visible plot in your story if you just ‘wing it’, even if you started with a specific plot in mind.

But outlining your story does not mean that you’ve lost all chances of improvisation, or letting your characters ‘come to life’.

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Writing Style – Why not just figure it out as we go along?

That one phrase may almost entirely encapsulate my style of preparation for writing. Of all the Ferrets, I think I am the one most likely to leap into a new story with no preparation, plotting sessions – or outlines.

Indeed. I do not outline.

That is to say, I’ve tried, once or twice (and it is definitely a possibility that it might actually be helpful for me to come up with at least a loose, easy version of outlining I can and will use reliably – I will never be on the level of Rebekah, our Queen of Outlines, of course) but it never settles for me.No plans!

When I start a new story or novel, most often what I have is a scene. A single scene. I may not even know when or where it is. I may not even know yet what kind of world it takes place in. If I’m lucky, I will also know a few more things about the characters participating in the scene, and even a few of the other characters around them.

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Writing Style: The Intensive Outline

It’s time for my (first?) writing style post, and I’m so excited! We’ve already read Michelle’s post on non-scary outlining.

Michelle explained how she first creates a loose outline for her first draft with the beginning scene, a couple of middle scenes, and the story climax. She continues to add to this loose outline as she writes.

Then she reads her first draft and makes a detailed outline from there to see how the story needs to change to be told better. (Rest assured, no matter what type of outlining you do, you WILL be rewriting your story. Likely several times.)

I’m the other true outliner of the Ferrets. I learned this the hard way in 2009, during NaNoWriMo. I finished the month with 50,000 words (for the first time ever!), but they sucked. And they rambled. There was no plot – even though I’d had one in mind when I started writing. Even four years later, I… still haven’t had the courage to re-read that mess.

The next year, I did a loose outline much like the one Michelle does for her first draft. The writing went much smoother, but still rambled too much. So, in 2011, I finally caved to my true desires. Continue reading