About a month or two ago, I had spoken with someone about outlines. They were tossing around some story ideas and was wondering if I used outlines. I’ll give my answer in a little bit, but first I want to discuss pantsing and plotting, and whether or not outlines are necessary. This is something many writers ponder and try to decide.
Admittedly, this term is new to me, but the practice of it is not. Pantsing is writing a story without an outline, thus flying by the seat of your pants. For the longest time this is how I wrote. I would get a story idea and just run with it. Pantsing gives you a little more flexibility when you’re writing, since you don’t have a structure to work with. The bad part of pantsing is that you don’t have a structure to work with. Some writers can do this and pull it off very successfully. Reportedly, Stephen King is a pantser and he’s very successful, so it does work for many writers.
This was the bane of my existence in high school when I was assigned long essays to write. Plotting by using outlines can be tedious and time consuming, but it gives you direction and a better understanding of your story. Remember earlier when we talked about enjoying the journey? By using an outline you enjoy the story because you’re taking the time to get to know it and your characters and situations.
What I think people get caught up in when they think of making an outline, is that they have to have every little thing planned out. That doesn’t work with most writers because they want the creativity to flow. As a pantser, I didn’t want to have everything planned out but I did have certain scenes in my head or events I wanted to write about. This is what outlining should be. Every author that outlines acknowledges that they seldom stick to the outline. It goes all over the place, but they have the structure, that skeleton, to look back on and get an idea as to where they wanted to go with it.
It was explained to me like this: in a story, you have beats. Things you want to hit; for me, it was scenes and/or events. Those are the things you most certainly want to hit, just like in music, and so you write those down, then let creativity fill in the blank spaces. What I do, is I write the basic outline with my beats and I write it in such a way that it almost sounds conversational. Like I’m telling someone in passing what my story’s about. That gives you a pretty good grounding for writing.
What outlining also does, is paves you a pretty clear road for writing, so you can get the story done faster. You’ve enjoyed the story in making the outline and thinking about it in every light, so get it done and share it with the world. I was once a pantser but now I’m leaning towards the idea of outlining my stories and hopefully get more projects done at a quicker pace.