Thoughts About Outlining Vs. Discovery Writing

Or as Melissa Snark put it, Writing with a plan or flying by the seat of your pants. Plotters vs. Pantsers. It’s an interesting piece that echoed some thoughts I’ve had recently.

I hear mostly about these two types of writers. One type develops outlines, knowing what events are happening when. Everything is meticulously crafted ahead of time, so that once the act of writing has begun, it moves forward without concern or worry about what is supposed to come next. Then there are those who look at a blank page, apply fingers to keyboard, and see where the words take them.

I’ve discovered that I’m evolving into something between the two, a discovery outliner. I’ve been using an outline, but I’m not a slave to it. I am using it as a guide to follow the major plot points of my story, but within the framework of that scene I leave myself free to explore. It’s led me to make some very interesting discoveries about my characters’s motivations that I hadn’t considered when I was writing the outline. If I feel the discovery I made is significant enough, I will adapt the outline.

Would I write an entire novel that way? No. I have attempted and quickly realized that I needed some sort of structure to keep it from becoming a tangled mess. Once I started putting some structure into the story, it was easier to keep things moving forward without discovering I was constantly repeating myself. Would I write strictly by outline? No, because sometimes my ideas evolve in such a way that they will not fit the outline. The trick, which I’m still learning, is to tell when to keep to the outline, and when to ignore it.

One Reply to “Thoughts About Outlining Vs. Discovery Writing”

  1. I have the same thing- I write within a loose frame work, but I am free to explore within that… and yes, my novel fell dead from it. I need more structure and will read your suggested link!

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