So, pantsing didn’t work—bring on the outline!

I mentioned in a blog post recently that I was once again writing by the seat of my pants. That worked for about 35 pages of single-spaced text (and by worked, I mean that I didn’t get too stuck and could keep moving the story forward). But, there came a point where I got stuck. It’s not that the words wouldn’t flow—I can word vomit like a champ—but more that I didn’t know what to do next. I had some idea of where the characters needed to get, but no idea how to get them there.

So, I decided to outline. Go me!

My outlining process is a bit of a slow one, but also pretty thorough because of it. I don’t outline specific chapters or anything so detailed. I outline primarily story beats. An order of events, I guess you could say. I use a literal outline format, where I number everything and indent details of bits. It looks like of like this:

  1. Day 1.
  2. Morning. Ryoma wakes up first, and offers to fetch some water. Carmae says that they should keep moving. Ryoma answers that they need water to do so, that there’s a stream nearby, and that they need food as well. Carmae, antsy, agrees.
    1. Ryoma goes to get water, and is able to talk to a sleepy Takeru. Ryoma expresses his distaste and dislike for the plan Carmae has come up, but Takeru manages to say that it’s probably their best option. Tho, he doesn’t like it either.
    2. Ryoma, not satisfied with that answer, finds the stream and fills up his two buckets. He takes a moment to splash water on his face, and sees fat fish swimming about in the gently moving water. Some fish will great for breakfast.
      • He lacks a spear, so he decides to use his sword. He stays as still as he can, watching the fish swim around him. He holds his sword high by his ear, waiting for the perfect moment.
      • He stabs down with the sword. Misses the fish, and he loses his balance. He falls into the water with a big splash.
        • Swears the fish are laughing at him.
    3. He jumps to his feet, angry. He starts kicking the water, taking out all of his frustrations on it. He actually manages to get his foot on a fish, and send it flying through the air.

This bit is fairly detailed, but only because it’s for one of the scenes I had written while pantsing. While outlining other sequences, I get as detailed as I have figured out. Sometimes I just say “Ryoma looks at this and laughs.” And other time, I leaves bits of dialogue to flesh out the whole scene. It’s not sophisticated, but it works. It helps me see my story from a bird’s eye.

My outline is never a completed document, and I don’t think it does you any favors to write an outline, complete it, and never make changes. My outline becomes a kind of living document, something I work on until I get stuck, and make changes to as I go. For example, I may think up a scene at the end of the book the night before, one that wasn’t on my outline but is just Oh-so-good that I need to include it. So, I put it into the outline. Easy peasy.

I find that having an outline is great because I always have some idea of what happens next. While sometimes I get myself stuff and leave little notes such as “Ryoma and TK need to get to X”, I at least have some idea of what X is and what they will find there. And, since it’s not set in stone, if I get an idea I like better at a later time, I can make changes. It lets my story develop both at a high level, and at something more organically.

I don’t know—it works for me.

Do you guys outline? What does yours look like?

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One thought on “So, pantsing didn’t work—bring on the outline!

  1. I don’t outline quite like that I guess. I just free write where I want the narrative to go. If it’s a longer work, I get more detailed, just to make sure I don’t go so far off script the story ends up being a mess. It’s easier, for me, to work off a framework from the start than to try to create a framework out of something messy.

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