In school, I outline probably about 95% of the essays I write. I fell in love with outlining during high school, when I figured out that it actually saves me an incredible amount of work and frustration. Now I do most of the work for the paper while outlining; drafting is a simple matter of mashing everything together.
When writing fiction, I also find outlining to be extremely helpful. For novels, I am not a pantser. I'm not sure I can be. If I just start writing, things are going to get crazy fast. Part of me wishes that I could use essay outlines for stories, that it could be a clear progression of stair-step ideas. Up to this point, though, I haven't been able to make that work.
I like what I've come up with so far, though. And regardless of the form, I need some kind of structure for my book when I'm writing. I can't go into it with a vague idea of what's going on, or it will be a disaster. And I don't want a disaster. With that in mind, then, I'd like to discuss outlining with ya'll. I want to hear what you do, and I'd like to share some of what I've done for my current project, Raiders' Rise.
When I first contemplated rewrites on Raiders' Rise, I was completely overwhelmed. I loved the story, but there were so many threads that I hadn't made a place for and wasn't sure how to incorporate. I was faced with the reality of four POV characters, up from two in the first draft, but I wasn't sure whether to keep the other two in the second book, as planned, or to put them all together in one story. It was making my head spin.
So, I started by gathering plot threads. I literally have a page in my notebook labelled "Plot Threads and Brainstorming." I took each character and wrote out what I knew of their journey. I was trying to clarify what each one's purpose was so I could figure out how to mesh them together. And it was an excellent first step.
Then I hit on something that I am quite proud of. I created a character connections outline (which I named just now, but it works). Essentially, I put each character on the page and then mapped out how each related to the others and what their various goals were. It was awesome, I love it, and I think I definitely need to adopt it for future stories!
I was still a little at loose ends with my characters, so I did some character development work, too. As much as I really liked what I did, though, that's a topic for another day.
Eventually, I came to a place where I just needed to explore how I thought the story should go. I initially intended my ramblings as a possible flow for the story that would be tweaked later, but it rapidly turned into an outline. And, as you can see, I outline in paragraphs.
I write a paragraph in one POV, and when I switch POV, I start a new paragraph. The beginning of the outline usually starts sparingly, with general details, but, by the end, I've got much longer paragraphs that, in places, take up half a page. In all, I ended up with twenty-four handwritten pages outlining the whole story. Part of me is amused, part is impressed, and part is just terrified.
The thing that I am really satisfied with this time around, as compared to my first draft outline, is that I actually plotted out the climax. Last time, I just couldn't decide what to do with it, so I left it hanging. When I went to actually write the climax, I struggled. This time, I have a much better guide in place that I'm quite excited about.
For me, outlining does a lot of the organizational work of the story. It lets me see that this thread follows naturally from that thread and make sure that each character is getting a good amount of POV time. It helps me know when I need to show the same thing from multiple POV and when an event can stand on its own. And, best of all, it gives me a framework to refer back to when I'm writing. That is a wonderful feeling.
So, tell me: what's your process? I'm really interested in learning new organizational processes, and I'd love to hear what you use! Are you a plotter or a pantser? Let me know in the comments!