Outlines are Scary

I am what is affectionately referred to as a panster – someone who writes by the seat of their pants (also know as a “discovery writer” since they discover the story/characters as they write). The other type of writer is a plotter, someone who outlines a story before sitting down to write it (also known as an “outliner”). Some people present this as an either/or situation – one is a panster or a plotter. I’ve seen a few people treat it as a continuum, with pure pantser and pure plotter as extremes with nearly everyone falling somewhere in between. I rather like this view, although I’m definitely over on the panster side of things.

Outlines scare me. Even thinking about them makes me a little nervous. I have an idea of where a story is going and a few key points along the way, but if I sat down and tried to write a neat little outline it would almost surely kill my interest. I need to figure things out as I write, learning about the characters and seeing how they react to and effect the plot.

I know some people can fill out detailed character sheets and know person A’s mother’s friend’s dog’s name and what the first picture they drew in Kindergarten was before they sit down to write, but I can’t do that either. I have an idea of personality and a bit of history, and I learn about the character as I go. It’s a little like meeting the friend of a friend and sitting down to chat.

When writing a first draft, I need to run wild and free. It’s an adventure. I might know what happens in the story today when I sit down to write, but not what happens the day after. My brain tends to work a little bit ahead, although sometimes I think I know what’s going to happen and it ends up changing. Maybe I stumble around for a bit, but this is the way writing works for me. An outline would feel like shackles, and the last thing I need is another excuse to keep me from writing.

But after saying all that I do outline – after the first draft is done. An outline is part of editing, when I need a more structured picture of the story.

Comments are closed.