Outlining / by Matthew Marchitto

*vomits physical rage*

*smears magma filled rage chunks on computer screen*

Outlining. The evil ye-shall-not-say-its-name plot backbone that we all like to ignore. I’ve always been one of those people who ignore outlining. I’m a pantser by nature, waiting until I’m staring at the blank document to start putting down the story as it comes. An outline always feels like a big restriction, like chains holding you to the bottom of a word pool you didn’t want to commit to. But really, that’s not what an outline is. It’s a guideline to help direct the way. 

This month I’ve been making an outline for NaNoWriMo. I’m hoping it will up my wordcount and make each day easier. If I actually know all the major events and points that I want to hit, then everything should go smoother, right? Well, I don’t actually know. I’ve only ever really done character sheets and worldbuilding notes, but never an actual outline. Even the outline I’m making now is pretty vague, only dealing with major plot points.  

I generally write from scene to scene, taking elements I see in that scene and expanding them. If Jimmy Jim is in a room with a kitchen table, I might think “what can Jimmy Jim hit Bobby Bob with?” and I’ll go “oh, the kitchen table has chairs, so he hits him with a chair.” It’s a minor detail, but it’s the kind of thing that might not be in an outline. Chances are the outline will say something like “Jimmy Jim fights Bobby Bob.” And I guess there’s a fear that stripping it down and removing the spontaneity will diminish the story. I have to admit, there’s something thrilling about getting to a point in the story and realizing, “shit, this character is going to die. They have to die.” And having that revelation smack you out of nowhere. Putting it down in an outline feels like it takes away from that thrill. But then again, is that really the best way to make a story? 

My first drafts almost always get entirely rewritten. I don’t outline, so when I start a story I only have very vague ideas of where it’s going and who the characters are. It’s fun, but it also means that editing the first draft into something coherent will likely take months. This is the first time I’ve really hunkered down to use an outline, and I’m hoping it will streamline the process a bit. I’m hoping the first draft won’t be as messy as it usually is. I don’t expect it to be publishable on December 1st, but maybe it’ll cut a few months off the editing cycle.