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Outlining by the Seat of your Pants

Soooo……….. Outlining. Pantsing. The flip and catch of a story and the many methods of putting it down on paper (or screen).


Which are you? Or are you a mix?

For myself, I’m a pantser, with a flicker of outlining. By this, I mean I have an idea, with often no real idea of its path and I’ll just start writing. The story lets me know what’s happening as we go along together. Sometimes, it’ll give me a glimpse of its future. Just little snippets, such as a minor plot line or even a hint at the ending. Once, with Mr. Composure, which I was commissioned to write for the movie The Purge: Anarchy, I wrote the first paragraph and then immediately wrote the last three words. Those three words were what many called ‘the biggest plot twist ever!’


With Sin, however, I wrote the first words and then continued. Once I started, I didn’t know how the book was going to turn out. In fact, it wasn’t going to be a book! It was originally a short story with a character that didn’t want to stay quiet, and that short story could have been a comedy, a science fiction piece or anything. I figured I’d find out as I went. It wasn’t until I was in Egypt that I could see the end.


With HERO, my current work in progress, I have written some brief notes. While it’s not entirely an outline, and certainly isn’t divided into chapters or have any real structure, it does give me a little direction. I know where I want to go, at least, if not the finer details. I’m so very near to the end, too. I think I’m just a few chapters away from finishing it and I’m very excited. Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, I do hate writing endings. I’m worried I might mess up the whole story by not doing it justice. I don’t want to let the characters down and I don’t want the efforts of the readers to be in vain.


An outline is much more than mere notes. An outline is an overall plan, or blueprint, of the story to come. It can take the writer through each chapter. It can give the details of all the characters (something I could really do with sometimes) so you don’t lose track of the colour of their eyes or the way they committed suicide. I rely on my memory, something that’s not always a good thing. For example, in Sin, I wrote about how his sister Joy killed herself. When I originally wrote the companion Joy story, giving her background, I had her dying a certain way. It took Cindy, a Sin superfan, to tell me I’d made a mistake and written something completely different in the main book.


Maybe I should start using them, on second thoughts...


Speaking to others, outlining can take a variety of forms. While one I spoke to doesn’t make an outline for their first draft, they do make a rough one for the second. She said that, if she does do one for draft one, she often won’t follow it anyway.


What do you do? How do you, as the Cadburys Crème Egg ad goes, eat yours?


In the meantime, here’s a great article on outlines that may help you:

6 Legitimate Reasons to Create a Book Outline


#writersblock #tips #organize

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©2021 by Shaun Allan