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Over the years, I’ve become more and more firmly entrenched in the plotter camp. This is something I definitely didn’t see coming when I first started writing, considering when I wrote my first manuscript, the thought of writing an outline was one that let’s just say didn’t make me happy.
As I’ve started consistently fast drafting, however, I’ve found that I work best with loose outlines. (Loose, being the operative word.)
When I first started writing, a large part of the reason I was so against outlining was because the thought of figuring out every little detail about what will happen in the book before you’ve written a word not only seemed like it’d be a lot of extra work, but I also worried it would kill the joy of writing. After all, one of my favorite parts about writing is the discovery, so if you already know everything, what’s left to discover?
As it turns out, however, most of the time when writers talk about outlining, they don’t mean J.R.R. Tolkien-type book-on-its-own-outline.
For me, outlining means opening up Scrivener and using the cork board feature to plot out what’s going to happen in the novel from beginning to end. I’ve also taken to writing the rough draft of a logline (and sometimes a query-length summary, depending on the MS) to help me stay on track while I draft.
By the time I’ve finished outlining, I know:
- Who the protagonist, antagonist, love interest and other important characters are.
- What all of the major plot points (inciting incident, point of no return, etc.) are.
- What the main conflict is.
- What my protagonist's goal is.
- How the book will end.
- The (general) setting (which can be as specific as “x building in x city” or as vague as “a college up north”).
- What POV(s) I’ll use.
When I’ve finished outlining, I usually don’t know:
- How much of the outline I’ll actually stick to.
- What my characters’ personalities are like.
- What the voice of the manuscript/protagonist(s) will be like.
- How my characters will get from scene 1 to scene 2, etc.
- Whether or not the romantic part will go as planned (spoiler alert: it usually doesn’t).
Whether or not the book is going to suck.
The point I’m trying to make is this: even after I finish outlining, there’s a lot I don’t know about the book I’m about to write. Hell, half the time I don’t even know if I’m going to like the book (as a rule, I don’t usually declare a WIP an actual WIP until I’ve reached 10,000 words. Before that, it’s an experiment. I’ve abandoned many ideas before (and some after) 10,000 words).
I tend to look at my outline as more of a guide. I frequently make changes to scenes or find that characters aren’t behaving the way I’d originally planned, and that’s totally okay—in fact, I love when that happens because it means the story has taken a life of its own, and usually, the ideas I get while writing are even better than I’d originally planned anyway.
Despite that, I do continue to outline, because that guide? It’s ridiculously helpful, and when I’m fast-drafting, it absolutely helps me avoid getting stuck because I don’t know where the story is going (something that happened to me frequently in my pre-outlining days).
And sure, I don’t know everything when I start first drafting, even after I’ve finished outlining, but the fun thing is you don’t have to know every detail. And that just makes the ride all that more exciting.
Do you do any pre-outlining before your first draft? Why or why not?
.@Ava_Jae says you don't have to know everything about your WIP pre-1st draft, even if you're a plotter. Thoughts? (Click to tweet)
"Even after I finish outlining, there's a lot I don't know about the book I'm about to write." (Click to tweet)