To outline or not to outline. That is the question.

When I first started writing way back in 2009, I was a complete and total pantster even before I understood what the word meant. For those unfamiliar with the term, it means to write a story by the seat of your pants. You just write with no real clue of where the story is going to go, but rather trusting your characters to drive you down all the side roads and still get to your destination. Then, in later drafts, you see what wrong turns you made and repair the stops along the way. This was the way I wrote for years. I didn’t understand those who outlined. How could you let an outline dictate where you were going? I didn’t need a map! I trusted my internal navigation system. (It should be noted that to this day I think North means up and South means down no matter where I am. In short, I’m directionally challenged and really do need a map.)

Like a good writer, however, I’m always open to hearing new ideas and reading books on the craft. Life long learner and all that. I’d read several books on the benefits of outlining, and while they made sense, I couldn’t seem to wrap my head around it. Until that is, I wrote Doppelganger. I had finished the book and was in the final drafts of it, but there was something off about it. I couldn’t figure out what, but it felt like something was missing. Turns out, there was. An entire beat was just not there. And the only way I knew that, was by going back and skimming those outline books I’d read. It was only after doing that, did I see how outlining could be beneficial. Even for a pantster.

Now, I outline all of my books. Not always in great detail, but I’ll have an outline of plot points that naturally occur within most stories, and then let the pantster plugin what she wants to do for that beat.

Here is a glimpse of how a rough outline I did for the first 3 beats of my steamy romance, The First 100 Kisses.

As you can see, small bullet points to give me a rough idea of where I am going for that scene.

These beat breakdowns are from the excellent book Save the Cate Writes a Novel. I highly reccomend it. The book does a great job of breaking down what each beat means and why it’s important in stories. Being a visual learner, I had to generate my own worksheets based on her story breakdown. These outline pages are also pasted into my story bible. I keep the journal I’m working on beside me as I write as a tool to help keep me focused but also job my memory of things I’ve already written. With so many stories floating in a writer’s head, you’d be surprised by the details that slip away from us. Writing it down in one place has been a lifesaver for my sanity.

Next week I’ll show you my Time/Location tips. Until then, I’m off to edit. Again.

Danielle Bannister, Author and apparent outliner


1 thought on “To outline or not to outline. That is the question.”

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