This Will Happen At This Time At This Place….


Show of hands: How many people actually think that outlining helps?

To me, outlining helps.  I don’t always do it for my stories (even though I would like to), but for the stories I do actually outline for, it helps.  It helps a lot, actually.

Not only does outlining keep my mind on track and helps me remember what I was going to do with my characters and plot, but it also gives me a chance to come up with new ideas.  I outline with the first few ideas that I come up with, but as I write, I might make my character say something that could lead to a totally new idea that’s completely different than what I wrote in the outline.

I think that it gives my mind a good opportunity to think.  Even though I have everything planned out, the clockwork in my mind still ticks away at how to make the ideas even better.  Sometimes the ideas stay the same, but most of the time it changes.

Well, if the whole outline is basically going to change as you write the story, then why bother outlining at all?  I don’t think of outlining as though they’re rules.  I think of outlining as though they’re guidelines (I may have stolen/modified that line from Pirates of the Caribbean :P).

If I have a few ideas, then I jot them down and try to put them in order.  I come up with a beginning and an end.  Then I have to try to connect the two of them together, forming the middle through the outline.  This is where most of the ideas change.  The beginning stays the same because I have to start somewhere and if I come up with an idea for the beginning, then most likely it’s going to stay that way.  I tend to always love the ending that I come up with, so that never changes, either.  I connect the beginning and the ending with any ideas that I come up with.  If the ideas make sense, I use them for the outline.

Of course, as I write, the beginning stays the beginning and practically the entire middle changes.  A character will say one thing that would change an entire idea.  Or maybe I’ll change the idea purposely.  If a character is supposed to be in his bedroom and I decide that the conversation he’s having would be better suited in the living room, other ideas will change…even if I just make that one little switch.

It’s like changing the past.  You know how you watch those movies and someone will go back in time to change something in the past?  They come back to find that their entire future is completely different.  Then they have to go back in time and fix whatever it was that they changed in the first place.  That’s basically how ideas go when it comes to writing.  You have a whole novel planned, but you change one thing and the whole rest of the novel changes in some way or another.  It’s one big chain reaction.

Having the rest of the novel change might not be a bad thing.  Maybe it’ll make the novel all the more better.  Plus, you change one thing, everything else changes and you might even come up with more ideas, which will change everything else even more.

Of course, there is that slight chance that you should have just left the idea alone in the first place.  You might change one thing that will change everything else for the worst.  Take my novel, for example.  I completed it.  I edited it a couple of times.  After doing that two or three times, I changed a scene.  Everything else changed.  I edited it a couple more times after that.  I changed that scene once more back to the original plan, which caused everything to change again, but not back to the way it was in the first draft.  It made the novel a whole lot better.

See, that’s the other thing.  Not only do you have to be careful changing ideas around and making sure that they make sense and the whole novel comes out the way you wanted it to, but you also have to make sure that you change the right idea.  How do you figure out which ideas you have to change and which you have to keep?

Well, that’s why editing exists.  You write the novel, edit it 600 times and eventually you’ll get every scene to make sense and the novel will be perfect, just the way you want it.  No one likes editing, but to me, an outline will make it a lot easier in the longer run.  Because, if you think about it, you’ll be editing as you write the novel the first time.  There might be something in the outline that you change your mind about and fix it as you write the first draft.  Outlines are guidelines and they really do help in the long run.

As you edit, you might find you don’t like something you changed.  Guess what?  You can go back to the outline, put in the original idea, and see what happens.  Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t.  However, it’ll give you something to go by and it’ll be a big help when the hard part comes…editing.

8 thoughts on “Outlining

  1. I virtually NEVER outline. The closest I’ve come to outlining will be jotting down random notes, scenes, or lines that I think of on the fly in one of my writing notebooks. To me, outlining seems like a chore, and I tend to do better when I just write and let my story tell me what’s going to happen.

  2. I never used to outline and the result? I never finished anything. For the idea I’m working on right now (and that I’ll be writing for Camp NaNo), I am going against all my instincts and am outlining HEAVILY. Because I think it will help me see it through and not give up and/or panic when confronted with a blank page.
    And the most astonishing thing? Even though I’ve put hours and hours into planning this story in the last two weeks, I’m a) still not done b) still finding great big chunks missing and c) having fun and heightening the expectation of actually writing it. So at the moment I’d say: yeay for outlining!
    Also: you are so right about an outline not being a set of rules! It’s more like a map than a rule book, and it helps you with orientation – but it doesn’t mean that you have to follow one specific path.

    • I have to admit that all the NaNos I have done, I have never outlined. I usually outline for everything (or try to, anyway), but I never even bothered with my NaNos. However, I thought of a brand new story idea that I’m going to try out for Camp NaNo during June and I am planning on outlining that one because I know for a fact that I am not going to know where I’m going with any of it! Good luck!

  3. My outlines tend to be quite in-depth. Since a lot of my stories come from general scenes and set-pieces I have in mind, I jot those down, put them into an order, then fill in the gaps with a general quick outline.

    After that, I’ll expand it into chapters, and go more in-depth about the general layout of each chapter. And I find it really helps, especially since I always get a bit of a mental slump midway through a novel/story, and having an in-depth outline to consult keeps me on track rather nicely.

    Sure, things change, as you said. I’ve changed two chapters entirely because something didn’t work about them once I started writing the story, but I feel that if I didn’t have a sense of where the story was going, I would have struggled with those chapters a lot more than I did, so outlines are useful even when the story changes, it seems

Let me know your thoughts!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.