fantasy · work in progress · Writing

On Outlining

I need to start my novel over because there is too much going on, so I need to  focus and pare down. I have decided to start by making an outline.

I rarely outline.  Sometimes in high school, a teacher would explain outlining and brainstorming, but that stuff was never collected, never graded and so I never did either. I did pretty good on my essays, though, so I never felt the need to do an outline. In college, one teacher insisted on collecting and grading outlines. (I told her we weren’t kids and it wasn’t necessary. She wasn’t convinced.)

Point is, I don’t outline unless I have to. So I am not even sure how to go about outlining an essay, let alone a novel. I’ve only ever tried to outline a novel twice in the past as an experiment. Both times, it was a dismissal failure. I would lose interest in the work; I would already know everything that was going to happen and be bored. I never wrote more than the first few scenes. I concluded then that outlining isn’t for me.

I have now decided I was doing it wrong. I think now the key to successful outlining is writing something short and flexible. If it is too detailed, I will grow bored when I am writing the actual scenes. But if it is not detailed enough, I might be derailed.

As I was derailed when writing the novel in progress. There was so much stuff going on. If I’d had an outline, I might have had something to focus on while still being able give the characters their head. It is not enough to have an idea in my head of what I am going to write. It is too easy to let the characters take off without me and lose my grip on what’s going on.

So that’s what I am going to do. I’ve already started it (it’s in Excel, complete with a time-line). The events will be same. The first little bit of the outline is actually fairly detailed – but I’ve already written those parts so I got a pretty good of what’s going to happen, what I can get rid of or move to a later point in the story. I will cannibalize as I need to from the old manuscript.

The outline gets vaguer the further I get from the beginning. But I am not sure that’s a bad thing.


7 thoughts on “On Outlining

  1. Outlining helps me focus on the big picture and the small picture at once. I’ve written off of very very detailed outlines (I call them “play-by-play”s because they’re like hearing a sportscaster announce the chapter) and also one- or two-lined summaries.

    Either way, as long as I give MYSELF room to change and go with the flow while still accomplishing the big things I need to in the chapter, I’m always good 🙂 Just give yourself lee-way. Writing is never formulaic, so you gotta give yourself a margin of error, a way to stray from the path so you can explore your characters more.

    Also, mine tend to get vaguer from the beginning, too. It’s because I haven’t gotten to those scenes mentally, yet. There’s too much distance and I haven’t formed them in my head quite yet–so I just have a vague idea of what it needs to be. Don’t worry about it 🙂 The clarity will come as you write!

    1. I don’t think I could do detailed outlines. Yeah I think room to change and go with whatever is happening is key.

      I hope it will!

  2. This is interesting. I’m trying to figure out the best way to approach my next novel. I didn’t outline my first one and I’m still revising and re-writing. I thought of loosely outlining the second one. Even if it’s a timeline and certain events.

    1. lol Yeah, that’s what my outline pretty much is – a timeline of events. A few words describing the scene. A separate col for scenes I know I will have somewhere in there, but I am not sure exactly when I will put them in. It would be pretty easy of to change it if I have to, I think. It’s not written in stone.

  3. Just a few days ago I was listening to an old episode of
    the I Should Be Writing podcast that mentioned a free software
    called Aeon Timeline, which is supposed to help writers planning
    the events in their stories. I haven’t checked it out as I use good
    old index cards, a pen, sticky tape and some kind of available free
    space to set up lines of events and play around with the order. One
    index card equals one noteworthy event – never more than a sentence
    or a couple of bullet points on a card. It helps me a great deal to
    put the creative mess in my head in an order I can work

    1. I’ve never heard of Aeon Timeline, but I’ll look it up. I’ve heard of the method with the index cards – sans tape – but I am not sure it would work for me.

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