Friday, September 5, 2008

Writing the Novel - To Outlne or Not to Outline

Some debates can't be settled with the passage of time.

When it comes to writing, the question I'm asked more than any other is; do I outline?

And the truthful answer is, it doesn't matter whether I outline or not, what you really want to know is; should you outline?

It seems that very little can rile up as much contention, debate, anger and anxiety as this one very simple question. Should I outline?

And the answer to that can only be: Yes, if it works for you. No, if it doesn't.

How's that for a vague way to start a new series of posts?

For some reason, outlining seems to be this mysterious process, knowledge hidden by reclusive writing gurus, kept in secret, protected from the eyes of the rest of the world. Or else it seems to be this amazingly tedious, painful, arduous process, like a scientific experiment, that can only performed in one precise way to get the proper results. If done incorrectly. . . BOOM! The whole novel explodes in a silty smoke of disaster.

Neither of these perceptions are true. Outlining is simply that, outlining. A guide. A short "high points" guide to what the novel is about. A road map to where the novel is going. There is nothing mysterious or scientific about it. There is no right or wrong way to do it. It just is.

Good, now that we're past the philosophy of outlining, let's get down to the nitty gritty. The real deal. How to do it.

Of course, the answer to that last statement will be as varied as there are writer's, and that's important. You need to find a system that works for you. You may try several outlining systems before you find what works in your hands, with your brain. But eventually, you will find that system.

Or not.

Tess Gerristen, the best-selling author of ten billion books doesn't outline at all. She never has, never will. I've asked her about this and we'll talk about her views, my views and other views as we move along through this segment of posts.

We're going to explore all aspects of outlining. And we're going to do it without an outline.


ray said...

Hi ,

I was reading ur blog posts and found some of them to be very good.. u write well.. Why don't you popularize it more.. ur posts on ur blog ‘MY WRITING LIFE’ took my particular attention as some of them are interesting topics of mine too;

BTW I help out some ex-IIMA guys who with another batch mate run where you can post links to your most loved blog-posts. Rambhai was the chaiwala at IIMA and it is a site where users can themselves share links to blog posts etc and other can find and vote on them. The best make it to the homepage!

This way you can reach out to rambhai readers some of whom could become your ardent fans.. who knows.. :)


Todd D. Severin said...


Thanks for the kind words on my blog. I have a huge number of topics still to discuss as I share all I've learned and bring you along with me on my path to publishing.

YogaforCynics said...

"Yes, if it works for you. No, if it doesn't."

Best advice on outlining I've seen. And yet, many on both sides of the fence will continue to insist there is only one way to write, despite so thousands of years of evidence to the contrary....

Todd D. Severin said...

I couldn't agree more, Yoga. Everyone has there opinion, and each one knows the absolute right answer. . . for them.

I find an outline helpful, others don't.

What ever works.