Organize-Your-ThoughtsWhen you write, do you have an outline? Do you know where you’re going, or do you wander aimlessly? Maybe you do a little of both.

I don’t use a formal outline that follows each step in detail, but I do use a story arc that pinpoints the beginning, some detours I intend to make along the way, and the end. I allow flexibility, to incorporate new ideas that arise during the writing process.

However, it is possible to allow too much flexibility. In my case, I allowed one of the main characters to take charge. My story went to places that it should have never ventured. As crazy as that sounds, it happens. You start writing and you find that instead of your character following you, you are following your character.

It’s fun and exciting at first, until you find yourself backed into a corner. That’s when you realize how far off track you’ve gone, and it’s usually too late to reign the story in. You end up having to cut through the path your character took and realign it with the rest of the story.

If I had had a more structured outline, and thought things through a little more, I could have avoided a huge headache and a lot of extra work.

An outline helps keep you focused. When you have an outline (and stick to it) you won’t be as tempted to go off on a tangent, or allow your characters to steal the show, as in my case. This doesn’t mean you will NEVER deviate or come up with great new ideas. But if the outline is there, you can see how these new ideas fit into your original intention.

So what do you do? Do you have an outline or do you wander aimlessly?

-Jan R



30 thoughts on “Outline?

  1. I normally start with a finish. I have a scene in my head that will finish the story and I sort of write to fit that. I’m not one for regimented outlines, more a rough trail of the process from start to finish. I also navigate through my stories via key events. If something doesn’t fit, I change it. I also develop a keen sense of what my character will/won’t do early on which rarely changes. Everybody’s different, so I’m a firm believer in the old adage, ‘there’s no right, or wrong way to write’. It’s an editors job to make sense of stuff. You just have to provide all the ingredients. 😉

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  2. I know exactly what you mean about characters going off track. It happened to me repeatedly with my first book, Darlin’ Irish. It’s such a time waster! I became a devoted outliner with my next book and have been ever since, although lately I’m allowing more flexibility in my plots. It’s fun to have a new idea hit that helps move the story along.

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  3. Reblogged this on K. D. Dowdall and commented:
    Thank you for this great post. It is so interesting to see how other authors write their books. My first book I had the first sentence and the last sentence of manuscript. It worked very well, because I had already written the book in my head, so no problem and I love this book. Next book, I tried an outline and immediately tossed, then I tried summarizing, that didn’t work either. So, I had to rewrite half the book. I finally found that did work for me: Chapter Headings Only. I know, weird, but I know where I am going, sort of, and the rest is intuitive.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi, Thank you for a wonderfully interesting post. I guess I am more, “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of writer. I must read more of your posts and I am following you blog too. Thank You, K, D.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s the hardest part for everybody. I’ve written several blogs on the importance of that first sentence, paragraph, chapter. You have to come up with something that catches the readers attention from the very beginning and compels them to continue reading. Don’t overwhelm your reader with exposition/backstory-you can always sprinkle it in throughout your manuscript. Try to minimize the number of characters you introduce in the first few pages so your reader can keep them all straight. Don’t be afraid to start. Remember your first draft is just that. You’re going to go through that manuscript God knows how many times before all is said is done.

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    2. When it’s a choice between seat-of-the-pants writing or perfectionist’s paralysis, I go with the pants and clean things up once I have a mess of text to work with. That said, I (almost) always know what I’m aiming for in a particular chapter/section, and the story as a whole. I scribble down lists of elements for each section — things that must happen now — as I go along.

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  4. I have a beginning and an end but I let the characters show me how to get from one to the other. Sometimes wish I could have a more detailed plan and then just write it up (well it worked for J K Rowling) but it just doesn’t seem to be the way my mind works.

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    1. Hi, Jessica, that is what I did with my first book and it worked so well. I had one sentence for the first page and one sentence for the last page and I never had to change either. When I began by next book, I changed my style to outlining, it was an awful. I trashed it and began anew. I write intuitively, I guess one would say. However, I love having the beginning and the ending, but that only happened with my first book. I now just write down Chapter Headings – weird, but it is working for me and then, I wait for the intuitive ending to suddenly appear. It worked very well for my last book.
      I do find this topic endlessly so interesting and I have tried several different methods, but none has worked for me and as you say, “my mind just doesn’t work that way”. Great phrasing!


      1. I can’t outline, it’s too prescriptive (even if it’s only my own prescription). However if I ever want to buy that yacht, Im going to have to become more commercially appealing and for that I guess it’s a question of character arcs for each chapter (what does the character want? why can’t they get it?) as well as throughout the book. You learn from one book to the next, I think I’ve got more pace on the WIP but the world’s attention span may be even shorter by the time that’s doing the rounds of the publishers so who knows? Good luck to you and yours!

        Liked by 2 people

  5. beccaswordbeat says:

    Interesting post! I have a very rough outline just to keep me going. However, I kind of like the idea of the characters taking control. I feel like even though the story may not end up how you originally plan, it probably comes out just as good if you follow the lead of your characters. As you write, your characters may develop differently than you expected and the different path may make sense. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

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