Upon hearing the word “outline” in the context of writing, your mind may conjure thoughts of feverish writing sessions in high school, long boring classes, and whip-cracking teachers. Not only did you have to work, you had to work their way. That included making an outline.
You may have thought to yourself: “What do I need an outline for? I’ll just transfer my thoughts onto paper. It’s as simple as that. Who needs this stupid outline, anyway?” I know that I did. It was like writing two papers, and who wants to do that? Who wants to write something twice?
It started with school papers, but I was later encouraged to do the same with my stories. However, I firmly drew the line at that; I was never going to treat my beloved stories like some kind of contemptible school assignment. Besides, it was more work as well as being unhelpful.
But then I figured out (surprise surprise!) that some weirdos actually like using outlines! I first found this of my cousin, who was pretty IEW-savvy. I gawped when he said that he was using an outline for his stories. Such an idea was so foreign to me. I remember thinking: Why is he treating this like a school assignment? Did his mom force him to do this, or what?
I had misunderstood the word “outline”. For those of you who took IEW, you probably know what a KWO is. For those who don’t, it’s a system of numbers and lines where you jot down a few key words from each sentence in a book that you’re taking notes from so that you can recreate the passage later. If you don’t have a source text handy, you pull words from your mind, and that’s how you use KWOs for creative writing.
There are other kinds of outlines, but even knowing this, I still didn’t use them. I still view them as inhibiting and unhelpful. Granted, outlines are very useful for some groups of people, but I just don’t understand them. Outlines have their place, but not in my sympathies.
However, perhaps you don’t know whether you want to use an outline or not. Maybe you were like me, who didn’t know that they existed. Maybe you write with outlines because it’s the only way you’re familiar with. Perhaps you’re tired of them and I can turn you to the dark side.
First of all, there are two kinds of people in this world: the kind that needs outlines, and the kind that does not need outlines. You need to figure out where you fall in this hierarchy. The reason is simple: if you hate outlines and think that they’re unnecessary, then avoid them at all costs. If you think that you need an outline, don’t let anything stop you from getting one.
Are you the kind of person who has trouble putting thoughts on paper? Do you spend long hours staring at a blank screen, but can write for hours once you have a bit of material to work with? Can you not gather your thoughts unless you’re jotting them down into a word document? If so, you probably want to use an outline.
Are you the kind of person who’s miles ahead of everyone else? Do you spend long hours mapping out things in your brain and conjecturing about contingency plans? Have you ever scoffed at a pathetic somebody who couldn’t think unless they had a pen and a scrap of paper? If so, you’re probably going to hate having to make an outline (and you need stop scoffing at those who do).
If you do want to make an outline for a story, though, I wouldn’t recommend doing a KWO. if you mapped out an entire story that way, it would probably be short and condensed. Try giving short summaries of chapters and characters and subplots in paragraph form. This will help focus your thoughts very well.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!