Some writers outline and some don’t. Some writers outline some stories, but don’t outline other stories. Some writers create vague outlines, and some create very detailed outlines.

None of that’s right or wrong.

There are some writers who say they never use an outline (sometimes these writers are called pantsers – meaning writing by the seat-of-your-pants). These writers often say they see a character in their mind or the beginning of a story, and then they just start writing from that point, seeing where the story takes them.

I wish I could write like that. But I can’t.

I’m going to tell you what I do, but I do what works best for me, and I recommend that you do what works best for you whether it’s outlining, starting from the beginning of a story and seeing where it takes you, or something in between. I outline, plain and simple. I need to outline before I begin working on a project. I need to know the basic structure of the story I’m writing: the beginning, the middle, and the ending. I need to know a lot about the main characters. I admit that I spend a lot of time on outlines, sometimes weeks or even months before I begin the first draft. My outlines can get pretty detailed, sometimes ten or twelve typed pages, where I break the story down into “scenes” or “beats.” And, for me anyway, having a pretty detailed outline (and character bios and some basic research) helps the first draft come out pretty smoothly and quickly.

Well, usually the first draft comes out pretty quickly.

That’s not to say I haven’t struggled with some of my stories even with a fairly detailed outline. For me, some books are just easier to write than others.

I don’t want you to think that an outline is something etched in stone. I like to think of an outline as a fluid thing, more of a list of suggestions rather than a blueprint. Most of the time my stories or books take different routes from the outline I’ve written, sometimes resulting in very different scenes than I had anticipated – that’s the beauty of writing; it can take on a life of its own once you start putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Most of the time, characters will come alive and take on lives of their own, taking me down a path I wasn’t expecting. But, with that said, I still already know the very basic structure of the story I’m writing beforehand.

So it’s up to you. You could experiment with outlining one of your books before the first draft and see if it helps. Or you could just start with an intriguing beginning and run with it, see where it takes you. I always recommend some form of outlining, even if it is a basic page of notes on the story, but that’s just because outlining in some form or another has always helped me.

Hope this helps someone out there. Next month I’ll talk about creating character bios for your story in the writing tips for May.

Until next time . . .


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