Many people ask me, “Are you an Outliner?”
Aside from sounding like a creature from another planet, an Outliner is a writer who outlines the entire novel before writing a word. When I first started writing, I found outlining to be quite stifling. Then as I began to perfect my craft, I would find myself getting twisted up in my plot and constantly having to go back and re-read what I’d written in order to keep the facts of my story straight. In the books I referred to in Tip #4, I started doing some research on plotting, and I think I’ve landed on a method that works pretty well for me.
Under the recommendation of the book on plotting in the Writing Great Fiction Series, I start with the back cover. This is a short summary of your book and how you want to attract your readers’ attention. Doing this first forces you to think through the entire story. What is the basic premise of your plot? By doing your back cover first, you then know where your story begins, what your climax will be, and how your story will end.
Where do you go with all the stuff in the middle? Well, I must confess. I’m a rebel at heart and when you try to force me onto a narrow path, I’m going to push back. I am not a strict outliner in the sense that I have all the chapters outlined to a “T” before I start writing. I have the general premise in my head and then I build a short chapter outline for the first several chapters. A short chapter outline consists of a paragraph or two about what the chapter will be about. Then, as I write the chapter, I flesh out the details. Only doing 4 or 5 chapters at a time still allows me to let my imagination and my characters run free and take the plot in a different direction than when I first contemplated the story. Some people believe that runaway characters are the product of an undisciplined mind. I totally disagree. As long as you stay true to your character profile (which will be the topic of another tip) then I say let your characters lead the way. Sometimes they will surprise you and you will come up with a scene or a plot direction that you hadn’t planned on. That’s the fun of writing.
Once I get my brief (I mean, really brief) outline for the first few chapters, then I begin to write. I flesh out my ideas and add my details and my dialogue. You just have to love it when a beautiful plan comes together.
So, am I an Outliner? I guess the answer is I’m a crossbreed. I do think outlining is important, and for those who can do one and stick to it, I applaud you. I just can’t. I need a little bit of the unknown as I write.
The beauty of writing is that we are all different and approach the written word in unique ways. So I ask you: Are you an Outliner? Post your replies.