Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Writing World Wednesday: The Art of Outlining

(Disclaimer: This blog post had me EXCITED. So that’s why it’s gonna be full of pictures. :D)

Outlines. There is so much argument about them. When it comes to writing, some people can do so freely just going with whatever comes to mind. What I mean is that there are probably more people out there than not who sit down with their laptop/notebook and just start writing. But then there are people who can’t do that. I’m one of them.

“I don't outline because when I write I've got a very general idea. There's not enough to make an outline. I don't even know my characters’ names until I start writing. I don't know what the plot is, the conflict, the drive, none of it. I only know that I have a very general idea that I want to make into a story. It's impossible to turn that into an outline. So I just write and let my characters go where they want to go.” — Kela McClelland

Every now and then, if it’s a brand new sparkling idea, I can sit down and just start writing off the bat. It usually doesn’t last very long. Before I can really write, I have to have an outline. Outlines generally look something like something with a bunch of bullets and numbers and Roman Numerals. Mine don’t.

"I only outline if there's a timeline. Otherwise, even I don't know
what's going to happen next until I write the words."
Caterina Torres

Everyone outlines differently, and I’d just say now I would LOVE to know how you do it if you do it differently than the Roman Numerals/numbers/bullets/etc. My outlines have a bunch of bullets...but no Roman Numerals. But instead of looking like an outline, it’s like a very small forty/fifty page draft (with personal commentary, music intros and outros, quotes I want to use, lots of changes, and just very sloppy in general). My outlines are always handwritten, and the longest one I have is 94 pages.

There is a trilogy I’m writing. It has no outline. Oh, wait, it does. Here it is:

This is a special kind of outline. Instead of figuring out a plot from the get-go, I went through Youtube and picked out all of the songs I liked from the anime Higurashi no Naku Koro ni and put them together into a playlist. I mixed the videos around and then listened to them all, and put a plot together from that. I didn’t come up with any quotes or character outlines or anything, I only used the music.

Music is an obsessive thing to me. If I didn’t have music to write, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Even right now I’m listening to music.

I was going to put a picture of a close-up of an outline here, but it seems like they couldn’t go one page without spoilers. So I shall type it out, omitting spoilers so you get a general idea of how it progresses. Also, changing text color because my outlines are color-coded.

-          Group gathers together and gets ready to head out. Alex is just waiting for Troy to start chewing him out.
-          Finally just asks “Will you get it over with?”
-          Troy chews him out for everything that’s happened until now; it takes Alina, Midori, and Ryan to get him to calm down.
-          Arrive at Portland. “Like Cinderella to the ball.” – Ashley (later)
-          See sample I guess I wrote it down at some point or another
-          Sign in thanks to some tricks Alina uses, disperse and relax.
-          Alex watches Midori out on dance floor and when a waltz starts she spots him. “...Oh no.”
-          OST: Waltz of the Abandoned (Kyle Landry)
-          Midori drags him out & they start dancing.
-          Alex: I don’t know this song! | Midori: I don’t either, but it’s pretty. Go with it.
-          She sorta leads him until he gets the hang of it but he’s still insecure as hell, poor dude
-          Midori: Finale’s coming up.

And there you have it. My outlines aren’t organized, really, they’re just a train of thought as to how I feel the plot could progress. I keep the outline at my side while I type out the story and regularly start crossing things out on the outline, start drawing arrows, rearranging events, scribbling out quotes, putting down new song names, etc. It evolves with the story.

“I don’t outline. I don’t like it because if I do, I feel as if I’ve already written it. For me, the joy of writing is gone if I outline because I don’t truly get to discover what happens.” Charlee Vale

That’s all I can really explain about my outlines. When I first started meeting other people who wrote, I was shocked to discover there were others who simply couldn’t outline. Some people actually hate the idea of outlines! But as I talked to them more and more I came to accept it, as we do all things. It depends on the kind of person you are whether you outline or not, and how you outline, everything. It’s an enormous list of variables.

I’m going to use a quote here from Charlee Vale’s Thursday TAG! on Kela’s blog, Teardrops on my Book.

“Typically for me I have a core of an idea, and the story spirals from there. I’m patchwork writer, so I write all the scenes out of order, and then put them together when I’m finished. Though like I said, every book is different. For my latest WIP I actually did write a three page synopsis before I started writing, because the details were flooding into my head so quickly that I was afraid I would lose them all.” —Charlee Vale

There’s just an example of how someone who doesn’t outline does her thing. I think it’s awesome! To be able to write things piece by piece and put them together like a jigsaw puzzle? It’s not something I could do. It would drive me insane. But this tea-lover absolutely loves writing like this. When I first started talking to her, she told me she was writing a scene somewhere in the center of her book. The next day, pretty much, she said she was writing out the final battle of her book. I was like, “WHAT?!” And then I got an explanation.

There are so many different ways that we writers find to express ourselves and get our thoughts down onto paper or screen. We outline, we ramble, we listen, we talk, we type, we think, we do everything it takes. At the end of the road lies your complete project. Thing is, there are thousands upon thousands of diverging paths along that one road, and outlining is just one of them. These different paths all lead to the same goal (unless you give up halfway there. Don’t ever do it!), but which path you choose to take is up to you.


  1. I keep a notebook and a folder for each WIP. That way I can outline, jot notes, and keep research tips organized.

  2. I keep one major file in my computer for each WIP.

  3. You know, I didn't outline for the longest time. But with a trilogy, you sort of have to. I have so much to keep track of that if I don't, inconsistencies will overrun me! I have learned the joys of outlining lately. I have to admit, it takes a lot off my mind when I have it written down instead.

  4. That musical outline is waaay cool. The notebook approach is nearer to what I do, though it seems yours is still much more adequately soundtracked than mine. Me, I'm lucky if my minstrels tell me there's a song coming up before they just pull out their lutes at sing.
    One of these days, I'll blog a more detailed overview of my pre-writing process. It's fun to see the different routes people take to the mutual destination of a story written. (: