Is That An Outline In Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy To Read Me?

In the creative writing world there are two distinct schools of thought when it comes to approaching writing. There are those known as the ‘Outliners’ and there’s the ‘Pantsers’.

The Outliners tend to approach writing by outlining every chapter, scene, and etc of their short story or novel prior to writing it. The few Outliners I have known tend to spend copious amount of time just getting their outline together in the proper order before they even start their rough draft. Their Outline serves the purpose of being the path that they stick to while writing the actual story. They always know where they’re going and how they’re getting there. At least that’s the impression I’ve gotten from the people I know who are Outliners.

The there are the Pantsers who do everything on the fly or by the seat of their proverbial pants. They may have an idea for a story or character(s) in their head but they tend to work out the plot and characters and other details as they write and as they brainstorm/daydream about it. Their stories often require more rewrites, editing, and etc.

I used to be a Pantser. I hate the whole idea of writing out an outline prior to starting a story. To me it seemed to kill the spark of my imagination and took away all the fun of it. I used to write out the story and go back and make the changes so it was all cohesive. It could take some time to change scenes or delete them or add them. Although it was a somewhat labor intensive way to write I thought it was so much better then outlining.

That is until I got the program Scrivener and started working on my first novel. Working on a large piece of writing like that requires a lot of organiziation to keep everything straight and coherent. The thing I liked about Scrivener is the corkboard feature which allows you to create index cards  on a digital corkboard which you can reorder anyway you see fit. The corkboards are linked to the corresponding document. I tend to write a synopsis of each scene in each chapter. That way when I’m writing I can have some guidelines to keep me on track much like ‘blazes’ that are used to mark trails in the woods and mountains. However I don’t limit myself to these index cards and do still add things or remove them while writing. In some ways I suppose it is like a jazz musician improvising a solo based on the melody of the song.  He knows where he’s going but he’s free to exaggerate and wander.

I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of writer that hammers out a long outline before doing any story writing. The whole idea is cringe inducing for me. But I do see the point of having some basic guidelines to keep things rolling along.  I think that the approach I have now is a nice balance between the two camps.


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