Outlining: a necessary evil?

As my previous posts will attest, I am a pantser. I may not sit around in my pants all day (unless you use the American English definition), but I have always written by the seat of my pants. And for the most part, this is my preferred method of writing. But now that I’ve committed myself to rewriting and rewriting again this novel of mine, I’ve finally succumbed to the outline.

There are a lot of positives to pantsing, to participating in NaNoWriMo and writing with abandon. Such careless writing allows one to get some semblance of a story on paper, something that can then be expanded upon, changed, even used as an outline, but most importantly, improved. One can’t improve a blank page.

After drafting/pantsing, the next question becomes how to make the story the best it can be. I’ve finally realised that I can’t just keep it all in my head, because my head is a big muddle of things and I am very easily distracted. Enter the outline. It has taken me a long time to realise its usefulness, but here I am, admitting defeat. No more muddling, no more dreading to write what’s next because I don’t know. Finally, I feel like I am able to make progress again.

There are many different ways of outlining. Some people make an outline that is a short novella in itself, very detailed, going through the story beat by beat before fleshing it out. Others use post-it notes to create the novel structure, and stick to just the bare bones. Like all writing advice, you have to find out what works best for you by trial and error. Outlines, in whatever form, help to make sense of things. They are only evil if you let them dictate you. Whatever your preferred method of outlining is, be prepared to abandon the outline if a more interesting direction presents itself. Then rewrite the outline as you move along to fit the better story you’ve discovered.

So here I am, with various iterations of my novel, and now this brief ‘big story’ outline that doesn’t really fit any of my previous efforts. So once more, I will reshape, rewrite and rethink my story. But this time, I know where I’m going. And that may be more important than anything else. I have no doubt now that with my freshly sketched outline, all of my previous words, and a new sense of direction I can make this novel great. Not only that, but now I know for my next novel that I should outline before rewriting, and will be able to finish my work a lot faster. Hopefully this post will help you too.

My next challenge: how to make my main character, who is supposed to be annoying because she’s a new adult with no idea of what she wants or who she is, still engaging to readers.


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