Saturday, July 9, 2011

My Wrap-Up of Outlining

aug6-2006_travelling_in_EuropeWriters usually fall into one of two camps—outliners and writers who make the story up as they go along (seat of their pants.)

I’m decidedly a pantster. It’s how I wrote my first six books.

Then along came a new series and new editor (who is a lovely, charming, clever woman! Who likes outlines.) :)

So I’ve now written two books from outlines. And, since I’ve written both ways now, I thought I’d do my own personal wrap-up of how it went, just in case any of y’all are interested in trying another method.

This is just how it went down for me, as someone who has never outlined a story before. Others will have different experiences!

Pros of outlining

In some ways, I was able to make the mystery itself more complex and puzzling by using an outline. It enabled me to see the different sections of the book and how they connected.

The outline helped me develop the characters before writing the book. I already had a sense of who they were as I started out.

I could more easily spot potential problem areas of the book. I could see when I wrote myself into a plot hole. I could tell when I’d lost track of the theme.

I could easily explain the project I was working on to my agent and first readers before I even finished it.

The actual writing itself went super-quickly after I’d completed the outline and had it approved by the editor. There was very little mulling over.

I knew my editor would like the story that I turned in on June 30th. There were no surprises there—she’d already approved it.

My agent was able to just skim my book as she read it before we turned it in…because she knew we’d already wrangled out the plot ahead of time.


I wrote way too short as I followed my outline. I had to add about 20,000 words.

I’ve found that I can either write a very, very short outline or a very, very long one. Writing a mid-sized outline was impossible for me. My outline ended up being 21 pages long.

The outline took about as much time as it took for me to write the book.

Creatively, I felt very tied down with the outline and was less-likely to go off on any interesting tangents with subplots, etc…until I came up super-short, when I decided to indulge myself in the subplots. :) In reality, I could have deviated from my outline. But, working with a new editor, I hesitated doing it.

The outlining process tended to flatten my characters out. It took a while to fluff them back up and give them individuality and their own voice. Writing them in the strictures of an outline seemed to make them feel more like cutouts to me.

Summing up

Would I choose to outline a book, if I weren’t asked to do so? No, I sure wouldn’t. Were there some benefits to doing so? Absolutely.

But the process for the first book was so tortuous that I asked my editor if I could turn in more of a short, sketched out plan for the plot of the second book—including the murders, suspects, red herrings, clues, killer, hooks, and theme. She said that would be no problem, so I feel a lot better about the short outline that I’ll hand in before August 1. It covers all the big stuff, but I don’t feel as tied down as I did with the first one.

Do you outline or make up the story as you write? Have you ever tried another approach? How did it work out for you?