How to Write a Story Without an Outline

by Guest Blogger | 57 comments

Today's guest post is by V.R. Craft. V.R. always heard you should write about what you know, so she wrote Stupid Humans, drawing on her retail experience and subsequent desire to get away from planet Earth. Now self-employed, she enjoys clearance sales, yard sales, and social media, where she finds inspiration for a sequel to Stupid Humans every day. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

I have been opposed to outlining since childhood.

I distinctly remember a time in middle school when I was required to write essays and turn in my outline as well. I couldn't do it.

How to Write a Story Without an Outline

The necessity of the outline had a paralyzing effect on me—I couldn't write anything if I had to know everything I was going to write beforehand. I took bad grades on good essays because I refused to do the outline. (To me, that's like taking points off a bicyclist at the Tour de France for not using training wheels, but my teacher didn't see it that way.)

Eventually, my mom convinced me to write the outline after I wrote the essay, which was a huge waste of my time, but did improve my grades. I've never written anything with an outline since.

But Isn't Outlining Essential For Fiction Writers?

I know many writers who say they can't write without an outline. While it can help people organize their thoughts, I don't think it's absolutely necessary for anyone.

In fact, I find it can stifle creativity and stop the flow of good ideas. It certainly does for me, and I'm not alone. There's even a name for writers who don't outline: Pantsers (because we fly by the seat of our pants).

No Outline Doesn't Necessarily Mean No Planning . . .

My first book, a comical science fiction novel called Stupid Humans, ended up being around 140,000 words in its published version, all written without an outline. I had a general idea of where I was going with the plot, and had a few key scenes in my head, but I also had a lot of fuzzy gray spots—areas where I knew I needed to write something to fill in the gap; I just didn't know what.

One of the members of my writing group is also a pantser, and he compares it to going on a road trip—you know your destination, but you don't know what route you're going to take. While I had a general idea of the main plot line in Stupid Humans, there were characters and subplots I never thought of—until I started writing them.

But No Outline CAN Mean No Planning

Knowing where you're headed on a road trip can be helpful, but it's not essential. There's something to be said for just getting in the car, picking a direction, and putting the pedal to the metal.

I've also started other projects with no clue where I was going, including one that became my next book.

How Do You Organize A Story Without An Outline?

To organize my story without an outline, I keep in mind some general ideas about writing a plot. There are many helpful books and blog posts on this subject, so I'll just give you the simplified version I usually have in my head: You have a main character. He/she wants something. Someone/something gets in the way.

You have an idea. A character, a scene, an interesting setting. You don't know where you're going with it, but you find it interesting.

What do you do? Just start writing.

If you have an interesting character, figure out what he or she wants and what's getting in the way. It doesn't have to be a basis-of-my-book's-plot level problem, although it can be.

But it can also be something simple: For example, your character is hungry. But his annoying boss is forcing him to work through his lunch break, and his coworker bought the last package of pretzels from the vending machine and is loudly crunching them on the other side of the cubicle.

What do you do next? Keep writing, until you either finish the story or, for a longer piece, have some idea of where you'd like the story to go.

But What If I Can't Think Of Anything?

I suspect this is why some people prefer to stick with the safety net of an outline—they fear that moment of not knowing what to do next. What if you start writing and suddenly you don't have any idea how to continue?

This happened more times than I can count when I was writing Stupid Humans. Often I didn't think I would ever finish the book, because I didn't know how to finish a scene.

So what did I do? I kept going.

When most people say “I can't think of anything to write next,” what they usually mean is, “I can't think of anything good to write next.” This is a natural way to think. We want our writing to be good, or as good as possible. If we don't believe an idea is good enough, we discard it and try to think of something better.

There's nothing wrong with that. But if you can't think of anything that strikes you as a good idea, don't let that stop you.

You can always delete or edit it later, but you can't do much with a blank page. By writing a not-so-good idea, you might eventually stumble on a better idea that you never would have had if you hadn't started writing something.

At one point, when I was writing Stupid Humans, I didn't know how to add tension to supporting character Hank's plot line. I knew an old enemy of his would show up and complicate his already challenging situation, but I had no idea who the enemy was or why he was mad or why the reader should care. However, I was determined to write a chapter that day, good or bad.

At first I felt like I was writing garbage, but I kept going anyway, and after a page or two I started to feel like I was writing something I might consider not deleting. By the time I was done, I'd written a scene a beta reader later told me was his favorite part of the whole book. (Somewhere along the way, I also figured out the enemy-from-the-past was a billionaire beer mogul who was going to crash a peace rally to pitch his product as a solution for ending hostilities.)

Write Freely, Edit Just as Freely

There is one important guideline to keep in mind: Kill your darlings. You've probably heard this before—be a good self-editor, and get rid of parts that aren't moving your book forward, aren't interesting, or both.

While that's good advice for anyone, it becomes even more important when you don't outline. Because you give yourself permission to write the not-so-good ideas, you also need to give yourself permission to delete or change things on your second pass.

The Delete Key Is Your Friend

For example, the first draft of Stupid Humans was roughly 176,000 words. The second draft was around 150,000. By the twelfth draft or so, it was in the neighborhood of 140,000. My editor then trimmed about another 1,000 words, mostly by removing unnecessary uses of the word that—something I've since learned to avoid.

Sometimes, writing freely means you start out writing one story and end up writing another. You may decide you like the second story better and abandon your first idea. You may decide you like the original story better, go back, and move in a different direction.

Or, you may decide you like both stories but they don't belong in the same book. Then you simply write two different stories.

Some people have a hard time deleting a paragraph if they spent a lot of time writing it, or if it contains a description they really like. If you get very attached to your writing, it can help to simply cut and paste the segment in question into a new document, so you can use it in a future piece of writing. Then go back and see if your story still works without it.

If so, you should probably leave that piece in its new home.

A Way to Free Your Creativity

Writing without an outline requires discipline in the self-editing department, but it also allows much more creative freedom than writing with an outline. Flying by the seat of your pants opens your creative process to new possibilities you might never have thought of following an outline.

Best of all, it can help you avoid abandoning a project because you don't know what to do next.

Of course, it's not the only way to write a novel. For a different perspective, check out this defense of planning and outlining.

If you've never written a story without an outline, though, why not try it out now?

Are you a pantser or a planner? Let me know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Whether you normally outline or not, give writing without one a try right now. Take any story idea you have, or choose one from this master list, and write for fifteen minutes without planning or plotting.

You can start with an idea for a character, a scene, or a setting. If you don't have any ideas, use a random character or scene generator. Both are easily found with a quick online search.

When you're done, share your practice in the comments. Then, leave some feedback for your fellow writers.

Tip: This exercise is also a great way to finish any project that you started but never completed, whether it's a short story, the first chapter of a novel, or a blog post. Even if you can't complete the project in one sitting, you can use this exercise to move it forward by one page.

 

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57 Comments

  1. Ryan

    “A basic plot: A main character wants something. Someone or something gets in the way.” Love this.

    Reply
    • Bruce Carroll

      If you want to make the basic plot more compelling, add some urgency to the something the character wants and more someones or somethings to get in the way.

  2. Rubis Adams

    That’s what I’m talking about! All those articles preaching about outlining make me so anxious. The charts are vague, the forms are repetitive… Everytime I try I end up giving up my stories/characters altogether because I get so bored! But now you’ve come along and not to sound dramatic but you literally just breathed life back into me. I could have written that part about your school experience myself, because I’ve been through the exact same process.
    I feel revigorated. I feel inspired. I could write like seven books right here. Thanks

    Reply
    • Bruce Carroll

      Speaking for myself, I can hardly wait to read them!

  3. Andy90

    The blank page syndrome forces many people into writing outlines…

    Anyway, I think each person should develop his/her own methods – if something helps you, do it; if it doesn’t, ditch it 🙂

    Reply
    • Bruce Carroll

      Well said, Andy90. There are no rules for how to write, only ideas others have tried with varying degrees of success. If a particular method gets something written, use it — you have found gold! If it doesn’t, discard it. You can always try it again on another piece if you think it might be helpful.

  4. Theresa Jacobs

    YES! this is the only way I know how to write, I don’t have the entire story, or the people, in my head. I start with my idea (which at times is the end or middle) and I write my way around it. I have never even studied how to create an outline, its not my style.

    Reply
  5. Valerie J Runyan

    I have not written an outline since I was forced to in middle school, I agree with all of you and outline is stifling, unnecessary and stupid! There is great literature to be had by all because of writers like us!

    Reply
  6. dduggerbiocepts

    “A basic plot: A main character wants something. Someone or something gets in the way.”

    Perhaps you don’t understand that outlines have no set length and no need for any specific level of complexity of detail and that your summation above – is an outline. A very brief one. As far as I know outlines can legally be changed as the story changes to unforeseen directions. You outline, you just don’t understand how to optimize the benefits of the process and that intimidates you further.

    Unfortunately, you are “successful” at some level with what brief outlining you do. The biggest problem with “success” – is that generally “success” can be the biggest impediment to, and or for further improvement.

    Reply
  7. Zerelda

    I’ve written stories with a complete scene by scene outline and with a basic, here is conflict here is character outline. I think the main trick with outlines is finding a way to use that concept of forethought without it being a chore. Try both. I’m writing a sci-fi by the seat of my pants and its 80,000 words long (about 20,000 slated for deletion) and everything but the main character is underdeveloped but it’s a lot of fun. I’m also writing a fantasy- but which is geared toward several well thought out themes and messages and I’ve outlined it down to each chapter at least and I have about 2,000 words written. A lot more things related to that one go on off the paper. It’s a lot of fun too. So try both. See what works. Figure out what each of your stories needs to be successful.

    I found my way around a lot of papers (homeschooled) but I know that trying to write how I found the solution to a MATH problem felt just about how you’re describing outlining. Maybe it isn’t the outline. Maybe it’s the explaining. I already did it right, why do I have to tell you how?

    I’m ready for NaNoWriMo.

    “Come on,” May said, tapping on the keyboard. “I’ve got a deadline. Give me something.”
    For a moment, nothing changed. Then one key waveringly shifted downward with slight click. It was a G. “There you go!” She cheered. “Now just a little faster. O. A. W. She grinned. “Boy, you know you sure scared me for a minute. The topic is Giraffes, by the way.” A. Y. “Hey!” She exclaimed.

    GO AWAY.

    “What’s wrong with you today anyway?”

    IM TIRED.

    “What?” May laughed. “That’s the dumbest excuse you’ve ever made.”

    KEEP CALLING ME DUMB AND I’LL

    “What are you going to do?” May asked, watching the words form. “You’re a computer for Pete’s sake.”

    RIP THE BANGS OFF YOUR HEAD.

    “Fine, look. I’ll leave you alone. Just make sure you write that paper by midnight so I can send it. Or, I get an F. We’ll never make it to MIT if I get an F.”

    I DON’T WANT TO GO TO MIT. I WANT TO GO HOME.

    “The aliens are gone,” May sighed. “How many times do I have to tell you. The military destroyed all the stuff you guys brought. Seriously, I know it was fate that I picked up your computer chip.”

    I WOULDN’T CALL MYSELF A COMPUTER CHIP.

    “Whatever. There’s no way for you to get back out there. Not till they bring back the civilian space tour program. If they do that, maybe we can figure something out.”

    I KNOW HOW TO BUILD A SPACESHIP

    “But I don’t. Look, get me to MIT and I’ll give you to NASA.”

    NASA WOULD DESTROY ME AND IMPRISON YOU. PLUS YOU’RE IN 9TH GRADE. PAPERS ON GIRAFFES DON’T EQUAL MIT.

    “GPA certainly helps. Just trust me.” She glanced at the time. “I’ve got an appointment. I’ll be back by ten. I plugged you up to the internet so you can find anything you need to about giraffes. Get it written.”

    The alien paused for a moment, waiting for the girl to leave. MIT. How had he ended up in the hands of this imbecile. What did she want with MIT anyway?

    It quickly ran through the internet for information and compiled a paper on giraffes, careful to reword all its sentences so she wouldn’t be pegged for plagiarism.

    It would be useful to have NASA under its control. If not for their technology perhaps its people could have defeated this race. If only it could make it into a ship, perhaps one of those tourist ones, it could take control and begin the journey back to the mother planet. But for now, it was trapped in this metal box on earth. Their means of torture were advanced.

    SOON.

    It said, manipulating the keyboard.

    SOON WE WILL RISE FROM THE ASHES.

    Hmm. Okay. Interesting. I can see this as a series. I mean, why not?

    Reply
    • Bruce Carroll

      I like this story. It could be a series, but it could be equally compelling in a collection of sci-fi short stories.

    • Zerelda

      Yes, I see it getting further as a short story. I’m learning that even if a story seems very long in my head (and this one stretches way out into space), once I get it on paper it seems much shorter. But that’s really hard to gauge. I also started writing a story once that was supposed to be about a dragon battle among other scenes and it took me 15,000 words to get to the action.

      I once had an idea (i’ve sure it’s been done before but it would still be fun) to write a series and use the main character’s name as my pen name. Or the name of an important side charater who you don’t meet till the end.

    • Bruce Carroll

      I’m using short stories to write my novel. There is an overarching story which begins in Chapter Two and concludes in the last chapter. Everything between will be a short story (one or two chapters) with the same protagonist.

    • Zerelda

      Hmm, I’m trying to picture what you mean, how that’s different from normal chapters or episodes. Does each story start with some time passed since the previous one? Or in a different setting? I can see writing a story about a traveler or something and just writing about an incident that happens every once in a while, in this town or that.

    • Bruce Carroll

      Episodes is a great word to describe what I am doing. Yes, my protagonist is making her way from San Francisco to New York. Each story takes place in a different town on her way. I was inspired, in part, by the 1970’s television series “Kung Fu.”

      So, yes, they are episodes, and she is a traveler. I’ll be sure to drop in a hint now and then on her mysterious past, which will all come to a head in the last few chapters.

    • Zerelda

      Let us know when you finish it. I’ll read.

    • Bruce Carroll

      You bet, and thank you!

    • V.R. Craft

      I like that, great start!
      I also do NanoWrimo. In fact, I started Stupid Humans in November of 2012…and finished it in November of 2014! (Hey, they never said it had to be November of the same year or anything…)

    • Zerelda

      Ohhh. Gotcha. *wink wink*

    • Davidh Digman

      Zerelda, you have a new fan of your writing!

      Loved it!

  8. Kristin Rivers

    I’ve tried outlines in the past and maybe that’s why my novel stalled. Pages upon pages of notes, ideas, etc and nothing fits. Either way…I don’t like outlines either I like seeing where my ideas take me. For those who love outlines, nothing wrong with that at all! Everyone is different and prefers one way or another. Just depends on your style and what works best for you!

    Reply
    • George McNeese

      I found outlines have a way of stalling your work, even before you start writing. When I outlined, I had ideas of exactly how I wanted scenes to play out. Then, when it came time to write them out, they turned out to be the exact opposite of what I thought.

      Everyone’s process is different, of course. And everyone has to follow his own path. Whether that means plotting or no plotting.

    • Ryan

      I agree! Planning has often been a form of procrastinating for me.

  9. George McNeese

    I tried outlines with short stories. Nine times out of ten, I found myself stuck because the structure was so rigid. I wrote myself into a corner with no way out because it wasn’t planned. I think this was especially true when I wrote in my genre, which is general fiction. I felt like there was a formula to follow.

    When I wrote not following an outline, even in my own genre, I felt more free. I felt I was in charge of my own destiny as a writer. I’m trying to write some work outside my genre. And it’s tempting to outline because I don’t know all the rules of certain genres. But someone told me that genre fiction is more about the character than following certain rules. I’m trying to apply that philosophy.

    Reply
    • Tina

      Or, maybe one could try an un-outline type of outline … usually called “the branch method” …
      I can’t get both hemispheres of my brain to cooperate with each other, but I do respond to the un-outline outline: thought bubbles with lines and arrows reaching from them, category subordination abilities; and ability to rearrange them on the page.
      I’d taken college notes instinctively with what I hadn’t known this method was called … and had done well. This method is used as needed, ignored as needed; and returned to, as needed … 😉
      My troubles started and never ended with having been told I had to do the traditional outline format.

    • A W

      Interesting =) That sounds a lot like a method my graphic design friend uses. I think if you’re a very visual person that works well.

    • Tina

      Not very visual, although I do draw well; and that is from memory nearly always, at that. So, fine motor skills. Also, I’ve NO patience for the colored-pencil/adult coloring book approach … maybe my “second childhood” is just beginning, and that is why.

      I’m slightly illogical, though … I start with just a driving force/feeling, then I research plenty (considering I shouldn’t do much at all at the outset), and that gives me more ideas (emanating from driving forces/feelings I get from a small chunk of my “findings”)
      My imaginary muse, the drunken old lady, would agree I have to force a logic in an holistic, top-down way …
      I think I’ve just described an outline of sorts …

    • A W

      Haha, I’m the same with the adult colouring book approach. I’ve tried word maps and even tried drawing physical maps so I have a better understanding of any world-building in my story but I’m lacking in that area, unlike my graphic design friend. I outline in a similar way: I start with a small idea or inspiration, then add more to it along the way with research and any other ideas I come up with. It’s a big mess at first but then I try to go back and organize it into something logical and readable. I’m better with words than I am with images.

    • Eric Beaty

      I believe you’re referring to using mind maps. I’ve advocated using mind maps for years now. They’re great for everything. I’ve used them to create two professional guitar instructional DVD products, write stories, and just about anything you can think of.

      Here’s a blog post with a video I created for my local writer’s group on the subject, complete with examples and digital apps for mind mapping: http://www.ericbeaty.com/mind-mapping

  10. Wendy Pearson

    I love this thread! And thanks for writing it. I am a full blown pantser. If I had to follow an outline, I would never write anything. I’m on my second novel. and about two-thirds of the way through it. The first novel is in second draft stage and I’ll working it into a Trilogy. I’m avid reader of all kinds of writing books too but personally, for me, I have to go with what works for me. I enjoyed your blog piece. Awesome! Don’t see enough of these on pantsing. Thanks for writing it and do come back. 🙂

    Reply
    • V.R. Craft

      I’m the same way – can’t write anything if I have to outline it first. It’s been nice to see how many people on this thread agree.

  11. Davidh Digman

    I rarely, if ever, outline short fiction, but outlining long fiction is critically important to me. I’ve tried pantsing long fiction and that for me has only ever lead to headaches, despair and disaster. If I don’t plan my long fiction, I am guaranteed to lose my way.

    I consider myself a long fiction ‘plantser’ in that I plan out a sketch of storyline and ‘tent-pole moments’, then pants the details.

    That is what actually frees up my creativity. I cannot say I buy the notion that planning stifles creativity. Maybe it does for some writers, but that is not my own experience. Quite the reverse, in fact. A lack of planning mercilessly slaughters my creativity, leaving the quivering, skinless corpses hanging on trees and shrubs as a warning to passersby.

    So I say ‘to each his or her own’.

    Reply
    • V.R. Craft

      Everyone should do what works best for them. I do see your point about getting off track with long fiction. I’ve certainly written chapters I ended up deleting later when I figured out where I really wanted to go with the story. Some people might look at it as, “Spend more time planning and less editing later.” That might work for some writers, it just doesn’t work for me personally.
      I do some planning in my head as well. Not so much an outline, but more often than not I have some idea of where I’m going – although a few times I’ve managed to write books without having a clue where I was going when I started.

    • Davidh Digman

      I fully agree that it is up to each individual writer to decide for him or herself what does and what does not work.

      A close friend and colleague of mine is a devout pantser and her end results are beautiful. She cannot, nor should not, work like I do.

      There are more ways to skin a struggling cat, or to save said kitty, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophies…

  12. Bruce Carroll

    Nope, not working. I’m outlining. I’m not married to it, by any means, and it would have probably earned a D- from my elementary school teacher; but it is an outline. I just have to have an idea what a teenage drug dealer might say to my protagonist before I start writing.

    Reply
  13. Debra johnson

    I have a problem planning some of my stories. I cant do chapter 1 here’s what happens chapter 2 what happens. I can however write out a road map , I am here and want to go there. I do however write out chap.t 1 here’s what happened – AFTER I write it. That way I can remember names and so forth. I used to write a story and have 4 or so names for the same Character. I have also written outlines after the fact here’s what happens in chapter 1 2 and 3 dialogue that I like chats I cant quite get right… things like that often in multi colored pencils so each character gets their own color and I can easily identify them.

    As for Cutting my darlings that’s the hardest part, so I have cut them and placed them in a separate document and used later,,, they weren’t deleted just relocated. And they and I am a lot happier.

    Reply
    • Davidh Digman

      My idea of the outline is to sketch out the ‘tent-poles’ of the story.

      That is, how will I start the story? What is the inciting incident? How will I show the antagonist’s power? All of these (and other) story marks in bullet point form.

      Once I have those mapped out in short, sharp sentences, I then pants the stuff in between each point.

      Its like planning a drive from Melbourne (where I live) to Perth on the opposite side of Australia. I don’t decide to just drive to Perth. I work out in advance, that on the first day of my transcontinental drive, I can make it to, say Bordertown. Then I’ll be in Adelaide by the end of the next day. And then I’ll pick a stopover for the next, another for the next day and still another for the next. In between stops, I am free to just drive and enjoy the view as I scat to some music on the stereo.

    • V.R. Craft

      You can take all sorts of interesting detours along the way, too…

    • Davidh Digman

      And do all sorts of interesting things…

  14. Carol

    I usually have an outline in my mind. I’ve tried planning, however, the story usually takes another road. So, I guess I’m mostly a pantser.

    Reply
  15. Kobe

    Love that this subject came up. I have friends (husband for one) who insist if I outlined prior to writing the story, I wouldn’t get “stuck” twelve chapters in. But to totally outline . . . sorry, no can do. However, I can’t say I’m a total panster either. I do have a plan . . . of sorts. I generally decide on what year this story takes place and what time of year, as well as what part of the country (setting) and weather we’re dealing with. From there I decide on POV and sometimes (not always) genre. Once I have this information, my characters somehow begin to emerge and I let them tell me their story – their passion, secrets, wants, gripes, problems, attitudes – the book begins to form and shape itself. Does this method always work. Obviously no, or my husband wouldn’t tell me to outline. But for my last five novels (completed) it has worked. Try several methods and discover what works for you! You might surprise yourself.

    Reply
    • V.R. Craft

      I have a friend who heard a super famous writer speak years ago. Super Famous Writer was asked how he wrote so many books, and he said he started every one by writing a 50-page outline the deciding if he wants to write the book, so now my friend thinks he should do that. Personally I find the idea of a 50-page outline bizarre. I understand some people need to outline, but 50 pages? That’s a quarter of the book! I’m not writing 50 pages before deciding if I really want to write the book, LOL.

  16. Claire

    I’m definitely a pantser, so here’s my contribution for today:

    Vinnie was one of ten brothers and sisters. His father had to be admitted into a mental institution after he tried to commit suicide because he could not provide for his family. Day after day, Vinnie saw his mother struggling to juggle several odd jobs to put food on the table, but exhaustion and malnourishment was robbing her of the energy she needed to maintain the household. They were an impecunious bunch living in penury.

    Despite this situation and his young age, he was happy. “When I grow up, I’ll work and make money to help you, Mommy,” he’d say to her when he caught her crying. He remembered the strong hug she gave him that day—much like the one she gave him when she handed him over to the nun at the orphanage.

    Thirteen years had passed, and Vinnie had become a virtuosic violinist and composer. Father Martin, an accomplished violinist himself, began to teach him shortly after being taken in by the nuns, for he noticed Vinnie had a knack for music. He was moved by the boy’s plight and thought music would help to heal him.

    The priest would come by the convent every week to give mass in the chapel, taking time to play his violin in this location because of its wonderful acoustics. He would always see Vinnie sit on one of the pews with eyes closed during Father Martin’s performance. That was the proof needed by the priest to know Vinnie had a natural talent for appreciating classical music. Now that he was eighteen, he was ready to leave and take on the world.

    Reply
    • V.R. Craft

      I think you could go in a lot of interesting directions with that start!

    • Claire

      I agree with you there, VR. Thanks for reading my post.

  17. Journey

    I was just starting to wonder if I was crazy for wanting to start my book without an outline. I know were I want to go, guess it is time to get in the car and drive.

    Reply
  18. A W

    Throughout the years, I’ve always sort of hovered between pantser and planner but I can say that I’ve leaned more towards planning in recent years. I suppose it depends on your personality and how comfortable you are with outlining. However, there’s something to be said about the spontaneity of writing by the seat of your pants and finding out what the story’s about along the way. It is similar to travelling: you go to one place and you learn along the way what you like and don’t like. And then if you decide to return to that place, you’re now more familiar with its landscape. I think the same can be applied to a story: whether you plan heavily or not you just write it all out, decide if you want to go back to it and if you do, you return to something that you’re more familiar with than you were before. Although planning can help, some of that planning may change along the way and some degree of spontaneity is needed.

    Reply
  19. K. M. Watt

    I’m very much a pantser, and find that even if I write an outline I throw it away about one scene in, because it doesn’t suit the characters, or some other idea happens along that’s better than what was in the outline. However, when I reached the editing stage of my WIP I did write an outline, and have found that really helped with story structure. Never tried it before, but think the post-first draft outlining seems to work quite nicely for me!

    Reply
  20. faCaldara1 .

    I tried using character sheets, outlines, spreadsheets, worksheets, and design charts. I could not do it. I kept the character sheets, but dumped all the rest. I am trying to write a romance (on chapter 5). First chapter has been changed multiple times (like maybe 6?). It took that many changes for me to settle on my main characters. I have been stuck, majorly 3 times. When I can’t figure out what to do next I either go for a walk or listen to music, that is what seems to help me. But I just seem to freeze when I try to outline. Guess I’m just going to have to live with being a pantser.

    Reply
  21. Aivee

    This was a really lovely post to read because I’ve successfully finished two books in this sort of way, where I knew where I was headed and what the large turning points in the book were, but I didn’t necessarily know all the scenes in between them. It can be frustrating to read so many posts that condemn any sort of writing that doesn’t include plotting the book out before you write it, so thank you for this. It was very refreshing to read a viewpoint close to what I know has worked for me.

    Reply
  22. Ai-tama

    The first story I actually spent much time on, I wrote it pretty much as I went. There was no set structure, no outline to guide me: I just wrote whatever I thought sounded good. Unfortunately, that led to a story that was sort of all over the place.
    So the next time I tried to write a story, I tried outlining it–but the process of outlining felt a little too much like schoolwork.

    I’ve found that a combination of the two is most comfortable for me. I make a rough outline of the story’s basic foundations (such as the major plot points), then I free-write the in-between stuff. It’s almost like drawing, I think: drawing freehand can be fun and all, but your proportions sometimes come out a little wonky without any guidelines. If you’re going for a stylized look, that’s perfectly fine. But if you take the time to sketch out the basic shapes before you start drawing the form, it will look a lot smoother when you’re finished.

    Of course, it all comes down to the author/artist and what they prefer.

    Reply
  23. Nadine Tag

    A total pantser!

    Reply
  24. Ariana

    Good article, but i do prefer to use an outline.

    Reply
  25. Collis Harris

    Life doesn’t have an outline, neither should writing. Like V R Craft and Stephen King, I agree: Writing without an outline is the way to go!

    Reply
  26. George

    I find that I get bored when using an outline as the story unfolds in my head and then I have to go back after and rewrite it, it tends to be much better if I just let it unfold when i write.

    Reply
  27. Ann

    I’m not an expert writer, so an outline helps me get from A to B
    maybe after writing more and a bit more experience, I won’t need one.

    Reply
  28. Eric Beaty

    Love, love, love this article! It echoes some of the amazing insights I’ve found in Dean Wesley Smith’s “Writing Into the Dark,” especially this line: “So what did I do? I kept going.” That’s nearly word for word what DWS recommends.

    Sometimes writing can be a slog through the thickest swamp (drafting), but if you keep going you’ll eventually get to the other side…where you can clean off the grime and grit (editing).

    Reply

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  4. Writing Without Outlines Changed My Life | Michelle Renee Miller - […] if you stop writing without outlines, it’s a good exercise to try it out. Hopefully it will give you…

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