Outlining/Plotting vs Discovery Writing/Pantsing

From The Creative Penn:

Every fiction author will (eventually) find their own method for writing but all fall somewhere on the spectrum between outlining/plotting and discovery writing/pantsing/writing into the dark.

. . . .

Show notes:

  • The benefits and difficulties of outlining
  • How to outline and examples from authors who use this method
  • The benefits and difficulties of discovery writing (and why I hate the term pantsing!)
  • Examples of authors who discovery write
  • My writing process: Discovery writing with a hint of plotting
  • Links to books and resources that might help you

This is an excerpt from my audiobook of How to Write a Novel, narrated by me.

. . . .

Outlining (or plotting)

“Outlining is the most efficient way to structure a novel to achieve the greatest emotional impact… Outlining lets you create a framework that compels your audience to keep reading from the first page to the last.” — Jeffery Deaver, Wall St Journal

Writers who outline or plot spend more time up front considering aspects of the novel and know how the story will progress before they start writing the manuscript. It’s a spectrum, with some outlines consisting of a page or so and others stretching to thousands of words of preparation.

The benefits of outlining

While discovery writers jump into writing and spend more time later cleaning up their drafts, outliners or plotters spend time beforehand so they can write faster in the first draft.

When it’s time to write, outliners focus on writing words on the page to fulfil their vision rather than figuring out what’s going on. Outlining can result in more intricate plots and twists, deeper characters, less time rewriting, and faster production time.

If you co-write, outlining is the only way to ensure your process works smoothly. As a discovery writer, I have found it particularly challenging to co-write fiction, which is why I rarely do it!

If you have an agent or a publisher, or you want an agent or a publisher, you might have to write an outline anyway, so learning how to do it well can help. If you’re a discovery writer, you can always outline after the book is finished, if you need to.

“When you plan a story the right way, you guarantee a tight, compelling structure that keeps readers turning pages and delivers a satisfying reading experience from start to finish. And really, a satisfied reader is all you need for a ‘good’ book.” —Libbie Hawker, Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing

The difficulties of outlining

Outlining and plotting suit some writers very well.

But not all.

Some authors get lost in outlining and plotting and world-building and character bios and theme exploration and symbolism… and never actually write full sentences and may never finish a book.

Such writers may go astray through a combination of procrastination through preparation, a delight in the learning process without a desire to do the work to turn it into a story, or perhaps fear of what might happen if they do write.

Some authors outline a book and then decide it’s too boring to write it and never finish.

Some authors become so obsessed with the technicalities of outlining that they decide writing is too hard, so they give up.

Other writers try outlining only to find it is no fun at all.

If you can do it, brilliant!

If you can’t, don’t worry. See the next chapter on discovery writing.

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn