Tuesday Craft: Outlines

I have a lot of ambivalence towards outlines. I get optimistic. I always think that having an outline will be a great idea, will make me so much more efficient, help organize me, keep me on track, etc. However, most of the time, I don’t think in terms of plot; in my mind, stories are always defined by their characters. Sadly, this means that I don’t know where the story’s going until someone does something. Which means that I have to write a first draft before I ever get around to the outlining stage.

Once I have first draft, I write an outline based on that (which I think is kind of like outline-cheating). By writing down what’s already happened, the story starts to look like a blue print. I can see which parts of the house are kind of lopsided, and locate the most logical place to put the sink. I look for balance and significance. Once I have a floor plan, it’s easier to see the rooms that need the most work.

After my first draft, an outline becomes a wonderful, useful thing, but it’s more like a diagnostics tool than a guide. It shows me what doesn’t fit, and what needs to be stronger. But I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t think I’m using it in the prescribed manner.

6 thoughts on “Tuesday Craft: Outlines

  1. I use the Mac program Scrivener, and after I write a first draft, the program creates an outline for me. Or makes up handy little pixelated notecards that I can move around. Bliss!

    I like the idea of using it as a diagnostic tool. I tend to make way-too-detailed timelines for that purpose.

  2. Ooh–now, I like the idea of a program that does the outline for me. So, okay, so maybe I’m no good with character bios and chapter timelines and stuff, but if the computer swept in to write my outline for me, well, I wouldn’t say no 😉

  3. This is exactly how I outline most of the time. Trying to do so before a first draft is written is pretty much mental suicide, haha. Even when I do put in the effort to make an outline beforehand, my characters change it all up by the time I’ve reached chapter two, and I’m back to writing directionless again, anyway.

  4. I’m so glad to hear someone else does it like this–it’s almost like I have to take a whole draft just to figure out what I want to say, and then use the outline to impose some order on what’s already there.

  5. I don’t need an outline because it’s not me evolving the story. If I wrote fiction I still think I’d just write and sort it out later. Mind you I’ve only one complete manuscript, but it seems to flow. I think it’s easier for me because I’m writing about an experience and not creating a plot, timeline, dialogue, and all those other writing things. I think if you believe in yourself the outline is created. Ideas, outlines, evolve while writing.

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