To Outline or Not to Outline? That is the Question.

Rianne Hall

There are three rules in writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
W. Somerset Maugham

There are outline people and no-outline people in the world of writing. Planners and pantsers. And the truth is, both have been successful. But which one are you? How do you figure this out? Is there a right and wrong, here?

Upon reading a few chapters from James Scott Bell’s book, Plot and Structure, I have discovered a few things about outline and not outline people. Not outline people enjoy the act of writing. They enjoy the whimsy of letting their writing take them wherever it feels they need to go. They love not knowing where they are going, and can’t wait to see what happens. Outline people are different. They need a structure and to be in charge of where their writing takes them.

Here is the man without the plan,
Ray Bradbury.
R.I.P 😦

Since the beginning of my writing experience, I have been a pantser. I have always gotten a thrill from beginning with an idea, developing a character, and letting my imagination go wild. The outcome of this story is a surprise, even to me, and I love that part of being a pantser. I’m discovering, for me, this technique only works for stories that are shorter than ten pages.

As I begin to think of myself as a novelist, this is not the case. I need to have an idea of where my characters have come from, where they are going, and where they will end up. I need a method to change my characters or move them from one place to the other. I have to develop some sort of outline to get myself started.

But this does not make me a planner.

I still need that thrill of mystery when my characters take me somewhere I did not expect. I still need a surprise in my stories. If this does not happen, I lose my love for writing. I lose interest in my story and hate myself for letting that happen. At the same time, I need a general plot. A plot that will keep me writing, intrigued, and, most importantly, keep me focused on where I want my characters to end up. So where is the balance? I’ve come to discover that planning does not need to take away the thrill of mystery and surprise with writing, but rather give order to those surprises.

Something I have discovered works wonders for me is to skip around, and plan different plot points with whimsy. Do not pay attention to how this is all going to come together and the end, but develop each main plot aspect you want to include with zeal. Then, I understand where each plot point is going, and when all is said and done, I really do not know how these plots will interact, or even if they will make sense. To me, that is why we edit our pieces.

Am I a pantser? Sort of. Am I a planner? Maybe.

Here is my point. Do not define yourself as either an planner or a pantser. Do both! Have methods, not labels. Have experiences and learn from them. If you do this, I promise you will be happy with your writing style.

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