Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Outlining ~ Finding the Method Which Works for You

There is a bunch of conjecture out in the writer world about how to plan out a story whether it's nonfiction or fiction. Whether to do a standard outline like you learned in grade school, spread sheeting, cataloging, mind mapping, piece work, or pantstering (just write without any plan) and a lot of others. I've actually done all of these for one book or another or combined variations.

I like the combination method best and I'll tell you why.

The first one like we all did in basic writing class to me is the least creative process of them all, but it's one we learned first. It's basic numbers and letters, and indents. I may write linear but this it too basic and doesn't allow much wiggle room. It's point A to the end. It can be set up with your kernel idea, laid out by chapters to the end, or any way you want to lay it out. This helps you stay on task and know what to write next.

For me, I'll update it this constantly. Why you may wonder. I hear you "that's double the work!"
"Yep!" I don't know about you, but my characters are alive in my head telling what they will or will not do or say. It drives almost insane when they wake me up in the middle of the night!  My novels evolve as I write them. That's okay if they don't do that to you. I'm the queen of Abby Normal, all hail the queen!

It also helps me write the dreaded synopsis when I'm searching for an agent or publisher later. Why multiple agents and/ or publishers? They have specialized markets. At one time I had four different publishers and two agents. It will also help me write the blurb for the back of the book if I self publish.

Some people use spreadsheets to write a story. It's a basic question-answer type thing. I'll use this method for character studies. That's a psychology test for my characters: race, hair color, fears, wants, favorites song, etc for more on this click the tab on the left "Lesson-Know your character."

By this little jewel of a method, I can keep consistency in my writing. Greg's eyes don't change from blue in chapter 1 to brown in chapter 26. If the character is known to have an Irish lilt in his voice in chapter 16 and switch to a Scottish brogue by chapter 30.

 Cataloging comes in pictures, quotes and sources of: people I base my characters' looks are concerned, tattoos, the houses they live in, a floor plan of the house, the cars they drive, maps, etc. It's full of all the little details like going up stairs and turning right to the bathroom or left. I will find a picture of the outside of a house that's appropriate and a floor plan, and even build them with Sims2 & Sims 3. Okay so building a house in Sims is a bit extreme but is also playtime for me. It's like scrapbooking details visually. Some authors can use several pictures to write a whole story. Visuals are helpful for detail work and writing is detailed work. You are painting a picture in the reader's mind.

I've done TONS of mind maps for stories before I write. Some fall by the wayside never fully thought out, or bumped by newer stories, or used as a rough draft of stories in the future. They get filed away in a file folder on my thumb drive. Although the picture depicts how to write a story, I got smart and eventually used Word to mind map.  It's the plot, arcs, and a few sequencing things similar to a flowchart.

The first story I drew several large printer paper sheets for the whole story. While I love to brainstorm story ideas with mind mapping, I'll never do a full book that way again. I could use it for a dining room tablecloth. I might insert here that my dining table seats 12.

Piece work is writing scenes and the and sewing them all together at the end. I admit to not having done a whole whole like this although I know authors that do. Some writers even use large card Roll-a-dexes. Now I love to do quilting and turning all those scraps into a beautiful quilt like I said, I'm a linear writer. That being said, I'm writing my new nonfiction this way. I'll eventually go back to an outline. It seems to be a jumbled mess.

Pantstering is writing without an outline. Flying by the seat of your pants writing style. This word drives my spelling checker crazy. I couldn't keep all the characters straight unless it was a children's book. The only panstering I've done was short stories because rarely do they have much details. Over in Compuserve's writer's forum there are writing shorts monthly. Usually there is a theme given that lends itself to pantstering. I'm not brave enough to try a 50K word book this way, but I do know many successful authors that write this way.

What works best for you is the way you should write. What's your method?

Keep writing and loving the Lord.


  1. I'm a chunky pants writer. I don't have an outline, though I generally know what the main conflict is, and I don't (generally) write linearly.

    I do tend to keep a file with characters names and important things about them so I can find the info quick. And sometimes I write a timeline to keep that straight but they're pretty informal.


I love to hear from you! Agree, Disagree, matter. Even if it's to say you were here.