Outlines or Not – That is the Question

Day 15: #atozchallenge

I don’t know about you but I’ve read so many articles on outlining versus pansing, my head is spinning. For the most part, I am one of those who write by the seat of their pants. I let the muse and my characters take me where the story needs to go.

Since I’ve been working on my first novel (for a while now), I decided to look at outlining and novel mapping as a way to help me get the book finished and ensure I had all the necessary bits and pieces.

I use Scrivener and it has proven to be an invaluable tool in outlining what I’ve written to date. It is particularly helpful utilizing the custom meta data.

In additional, I started an Excel worksheet that maps out my novel. Columns include Character, scene number, timeline, setting, goal, conflict, action, reaction, stakes raised, and plot advancement. Each row is a scene. While Scrivener’s outline is similar, I like having something tangible to look at and make notes on while I’m writing.

Before you begin the outline, there are three things you need:

  1. The premise of your story – what is the basic idea?
  2. Your Characters – make a list of essential characters. Understand the events that have placed the character is this situation and what things influence his/her reactions.
  3. Establish settings.
  4. Sketch out scene ideas.

Complete your outline, scene by scene. You can elaborate or use a single sentence.

Outlines come in a number of formats: the linear, skeletal, summary, snowflake, contextual, visual map, or software. Choose the one you’re most comfortable with or none at all. Not every writer uses outlines and that is perfectly okay. After all, it’s your story, write it the way you want to.

Want to see examples, check out 8 Ways to Outline a Novel by Robbie Blair. You can find out more about outlining scenes at C.S Lakin’s,  Live, Write, Thrive and K.M. Weiland’s, Outlining your Novel.

I’d love to hear your comments. Talk to me. Tell me your story and look for me on Facebook at SheilaMGood,  PinterestBloglovinTwitter@sheilamgood, and Contently.

43 thoughts on “Outlines or Not – That is the Question

  1. I had a fantastic idea this morning for a novel – I haven’t written one in years (and none of those were very good). I’m thinking an outline would help me figure out exactly what I should be doing and maybe make this one into something someone would actually want to read. Thanks for all the links – I’m going to look around and see what strikes me as helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a Pantser for sure, but like the others have said before me, your post is certainly making me (slightly) rethink my stance. During my term paper years, I used to write out quotes/ideas/concepts on individual notecards with a number in the corner that corresponded with my outline subheads. Writing the paper then just became a matter of piling the cards up in order and writing from the top down. I’ve tried to replicate the system with fiction, but can’t quite get it to work – but your Scrivener/Excel combo might do the trick!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, that sounds like a great way to do things. I’m curious, why haven’t you been able to get it to work with fiction? I admit, I’m not the best at outlining but I’m learning. Thank you so much for joining the conversation.


  3. I believe the best way to start writing is to start writing. Sometimes the best way to start writing is to organize your thoughts with an outline. Sometimes you need to jot down scattered notes without bothering to organize them because you can pull them together later. (Most word processors let you rearrange bullet points into an outline.) Sometimes you have a scene in your head and you just need to start writing that and see what happens, The key is to get moving.

    I move in and out between outlines, rough notes and scenes, depending on the project.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Phillip for your contribution to the conversation. As they say, “just sit your butt down and write. (Paraphrased). I too make notes and have written parts of a scene because it came to me so vividly and I didn’t want to forget. Great advice. I’m glad you found your way to the Cow Pasture.


  4. When I start to write, the first draft writes itself. Then the hard part begins. The things that have to be cut, or have to be taken from one part of the book to another, require my sister’s gift for sequencing.

    I once told my sister that between the 2 of us we make 1 writer. She taught business English and grammar for 3 decades. I, on the other hand, excelled at driving her crazy with my inability to understand something as simple as how to use an apostrophe.

    Unfortunately, my sequencing abilities are about 3rd grade level and other performance measures are elementary level, too.. Yes, there’s a test for that, and the diagnosis of “learning disability” came during the first semester of my 2nd attempt at college when I was 31. It answered a lot of questions and offered solutions that made it possible to graduate.

    In a nutshell: Some pantsers aren’t meant to outline. We’re meant to find someone who can do it for us. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I wrote on this topic as well: https://justcanthelpwriting.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/against-outlines/
    Although I value many things outlines provide, the heart of my post and my preference for a hybrid approach is this from the post: “A dear late colleague of mine used to say, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” That “surprise for the writer” is what an outline trades away.”
    Sometimes characters just do what they want to do, and no outline can force them to happily follow it if they’ve decided not to. As I recount, I learned this the hard way. Thanks for keeping this conversation alive with some practical advice on using outline models well!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I flew by the seat of my pants for Out of Time, but for the second book in the series, I have started making tables. The most important one for this book, however, will be the dates of birth and how they respond in the twentieth/twenty-first/twelfth centuries. Without that, I will get hopelessly lost.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For the first 40,000 words of this novel I’ve been working on, I flew by the seat of my pants. However, as I began to track the timeline I started using Scrivener’s outline. Being able to customize the meta data enables me to see at one glance, the day, time, etc of the events happening. Glad you stopped by Loretta.


    • Aw, thanks Julianne! I read your article and it was great. I especially liked your formula: “It’s a simple formula: Writer + Writing = Better Writer.” I lean toward being a panther more than outlining, but because I kinda got to a standstill, thought I’d try the outlining. We’ll see how it goes. Thanks for stopping by. Your comments are always so helpful.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Just reading this has my head spinning. I can never write a novel, something light and short is more my forte 🙂 Here’s to you and your novel! Hope to read it soon. Yup, I love reading novels! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I am a panser, but I would not begin a book without outlining. For me, outlining is essential. I took an online outlining course held by K.M. for Writer’s Digest and I have both of her books. They are good tools to work with. I also use Scrivener but have my problems with it because I am learning it as I write. I also have my Evernote linked with my Scrivener and that is a very good thing. What I haven’t been using is Excel even though I have it on my computer. I used Index card and it also works with Scrivener.

    Visiting from the A to Z Blog Challenge.

    Patricia @ EverythingMustChange

    Liked by 1 person

  9. If I have no idea where I’m headed I’ll ramble forever. I outline in the beat sheet method from Save The Cat. But I also allow myself the freedom to throw it out and get lost once in a while. It keeps me entertained.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This retired English teacher loves outlining. Nothing is set in concrete; it can be changed as the need arises. In the meantime, it keeps me on track. It’s also very useful, as my students will grudgingly attest, in writing research papers 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I did a very rought outline for my first novel. I actually divided my writing into four, working on setting up scenes in more detail for whatever quarter i was working on. I still organically discovered what happened in any scene, though, although i knew roughly what i wanted to happen in amy scene (basically writing beats).

    Liked by 1 person

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