“To outline or not to outline” has been one of my constant refrains for years now. I was a non-outlining person for years, mainly for two reasons: one, I didn’t know how to outline, and two, I thought that outlining would drive me up the wall.
At this point, I’ve pretty much accepted that writing is going to drive me up the wall no matter what I do, and I’ve found that outlining can actually help me… climb down the wall a little? (I really should have chosen a different idiom.) However, Problem #1 remains: I still don’t know how, exactly, to create an outline.
Different writers have different methods of outlining: some follow a Hero’s Journey-type formula, while others use the Snowflake Method, or a three-act structure, or a beat sheet. My method of outlining thus far has pretty much been “here’s a list of things that are going to happen in the story”, but what that leads to is the development of a plot that has basically nothing to do with the characters. A plot that has nothing to do with the characters is only slightly more interesting than a grocery list and the opposite of what I want.
Okay, so I need to find a new method of outlining. Easier said than done? Pretty much.
There are two books that are on my Oh-God-These-Desperately-Need-to-Be-Outlined-and-Rewritten radar: Reckless, which I wrote during July 2016’s Camp NaNoWriMo, and Demonic Dilemmas, which I wrote for regular NaNoWriMo in November. I began both of these projects with my terrible, plot-heavy outlines. The outlines were definitely an improvement over having no outline, but the fact remains that both books need to be rewritten, and that both rewrites will require new outlines.
One method I’m considering for Demonic Dilemmas is a zero draft, which is basically a messy outpouring of thoughts, scene snippets, character ideas, and keyboard smashes as the writer tries to figure out what in God’s name their story is supposed to be. (Similar to the majority of my blog posts, come to think of it.) It’s sort of like a very, very terrible first draft that turns into an outline.
Part of the reason I struggle with outlining is that my stories never, ever come together in a neat, linear way in my head. A zero draft would let me start halfway through the story, or 9/17ths of the way through the story, and then work my way from there. Since I have a hard time with structured outlining, maybe I need to move away from that and try a more fluid approach.
At the same time, I’m also thinking about a very different approach: using a screenplay as an outline. This doesn’t seem to be a super popular method, but apparently, some writers prefer to write their stories out in script form– just dialogue and action– before actually writing the novel. I’ve never written a screenplay, but I have learned how to format one, so I’m considering that as well.
Essentially, what it comes down to is this: do I need to give myself more freedom when it comes to outlining, or less? Or, in other words, what it comes down to is this: it’s time to try both and see which works better and probably end up extremely frustrated with both and end up stress-baking cookies because AHH OUTLINING IS HARD NO MATTER HOW YOU DO IT.
What’s your preferred method of outlining?