Outline word count: 5038 words
Working title: Rhymes with Wisteria
University and a new job have taken over my life over the past few weeks, so I’ve had to put my project to the side for a while. In saying that, I haven’t shelved it completely; I’ve been slowly working away at a chapter by chapter outline, so that once I do get the time, I’ll be able to write the first draft with minimal road blocks.
Plotting vs Pantsing
For my whole writing life, I have thought of myself as a pantser. I’d always written without any sort of road map, simply uncovering the story as I wrote it. I’d never successfully created an outline from start to finish, and I didn’t believe it was something I could do. For this project, however, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at outlining. The prospect of having a road map to refer to whenever I get lost was just too tempting.
My New Outlining Process
Outlining has always been extremely difficult for me, which is the reason I’ve never done it before. I realise now that I just hadn’t discovered my process yet. A fellow blogger (Bryan Fagan from acrackinthepavement.com) suggested I try outlining chapter by chapter, simply writing brief summaries for each. This method seemed like the perfect balance between creative freedom and structure. I got to work straight away.
Part 1 – Chapter Outline
I started by going through some of my favourite books and writing chapter summaries for each of their first chapters. Once I’d gotten the hang of summarising, I created a document called Chapter Outline.
Chapter 1 (0 – 2000 words)
Under each heading, I write a summary of all the events of that chapter, as well as goals and notes to myself. I use 2000 words as a guide for chapter length, but that’s not something I’ll force myself to stick to when it comes to writing the draft.
Part 2 – Notes and Scenes
I also use a second document called Notes and Scenes. This document is a complete mess where I allow myself to be a pantser and just write all the scenes that come into my mind, all the random bits of dialogue, descriptions, etc. In this document, I don’t restrain myself with structure. It’s basically a more readable version of the notes I scribble into my journal in complete darkness at 3 in the morning.
These are the scenes and notes that make the story click in my mind. The Notes and Scenes document lets me uncover the story without having to write the whole thing.
I’ve found that these two methods together allow me all the creative freedom of pantsing, while also giving me the ability to see my story as a whole, and therefore improve its plot and structure before writing the first draft. There have been so many little plot holes that I’ve been able to identify and fix in minutes, saving me what would be a complete rewrite if I hadn’t caught them in the outline.
Where am I up to?
I’ve now outlined around half of Rhymes with Wisteria! It’s strange to know the story beats before having the manuscript in front of me, but it’s also been extremely liberating. I think that, for me, writer’s block comes from knowing there is a problem in my work and subconsciously being afraid of what it will take to fix this problem. Outlining has removed any plot-related writer’s block because with an outline, I can catch the problems before doing all the work. Fixing the problem is as easy as deleting the bad chapter summary and reworking the direction.
I fully believe that some people can write brilliant novels without some kind of outline; I am just not one of those people, and it’s taken me a long time to realise that.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Did it take you a long time to figure out your process?
I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below!
[Header image: Wisteria flowers. Owned by Meneerke bloem. Used with permission under the creative commons license.]