Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Bane of my Creativity: Outlines

Do you know what used to terrify me? Give me nightmares and keep me up at night? Had me jumping at shadows?



Okay, but seriously. I used to hate the very idea of outlines. The way that I write seemed too perfect to mar with an outline. I discover my stories as I write them. I don't have a clue what is going on until it hits the paper. I love this! I have a blast journeying with my characters in this manner. I feel just as engaged, or even more so really, as when I read a novel. It's a beautiful experience.

And I was thoroughly convinced that outlines would stifle that creativity and kill the wonder of it all. If I made an outline, I'd already know what was coming and what would be the fun in that? There wouldn't be any fun, obviously. At least that is what I thought.

Recently, however, I have changed my mind.

I heard a fellow writer talking about the way that they do outlines and it sounded doable, and even fun. So I gave it a whirl. And you know what happened? I fell in love with outlines! And to my astonishment, it didn't kill creativity or ruin the wonderful experience that writing is.

What it did do, however, was give my stories more direction and make them less distractible. So, so many less bunny trails. So that was a good thing. And on top of that, it's fun to do outlines. At least, I'm finding it so. And far from stifling my creativity, it opened up my imagination even further....if that's possible.

You see, despite outlines, I still don't have a clue what is happening until it hits the page. The outlines give me a direction, and because of that direction the stories that I am currently writing are much more focused and I find them more enjoyable. But what the outlines did not do was lay out the story word for word, or even scene for scene. So I can still discover the journey along with my characters and it is still a beautiful thing.

So here is the only outlining method that ever appealed to me (and the one that I currently use):

First, I write out all of my ideas for the story I want to write on 3 by 5 cards. Although, currently, I'm just using lined paper that I've cut into smaller pieces because I don't have any 3 by 5 cards and am too lazy to go buy some. Anyway, I write down my ideas on these cards. For the book I am currently writing, Courageous Heart, a few of my idea cards say things like, "Discover the third" "find hope" "Inciting rebellion" "War against Single State" and so on.

Once I have a stack of these idea cards, I start to lay them out (on the floor, since that's a large enough space for me to work with. A table might be more preferable to other people, but not me). I arrange my idea cards in some sort of order. For example, from my cards listed above, I would have "find hope" near the beginning of the list and "War against Single State" near the end.  Really, I just put them in whatever order I think the story is going to go.

This is when I get a little more specific. I make more cards based off the ones I already have laid out. These news cards are a little more detailed. (i.e. Where Cindy and Cassy find hope, specific battles to take place in the War against Single State, where do Cindy and Cassy discover the third, etc.). I repeat this process several times until I have the basic outline of a story.

At this point, I have one long line of cards. So I start the next process. Breaking up the cards into groups, which will later become chapters. I slowly work my way down the line of cards, removing one or two or seven or however many I think go together, and I start to create columns. When I'm done, I've got a whole book outlined chapter by chapter. This is confusing for me to read, and I know what it is that I'm trying to say, so I'll give you a picture to hopefully clarify any confusion.

And then I begin to write. And things go crazy. The outline is just a framework, it's not hard and fast rules that must be obeyed. If things change from the original outline, that's fantastic. If things stay relatively the same, still fantastic. So far, for me, it has depended entirely on the story I'm writing whether the outline changes or not. And also how much I outline to begin with. I have one story that has a massively detailed outline and then I have Courageous Heart which is much more limited. (There are many, many more cards that the few I listed here as examples though. It's not THAT small of an outline).

I can't explain why, specifically, I enjoy this method of outlining. But I do know that I have a ton of fun doing it! :) If you're an author and, like me, have always run for the hills when outlines appeared...I would suggest giving it a try. Research different methods to outline stories and then try one out. You might be surprised by how much you actually enjoy doing outlines. And I am 100% sure that your stories will be more focused and more enjoyable to read because of that.

Happy Writing, everyone!


  1. Wow, that is such a great idea! I'm glad that you've found a method that you actually enjoy. :)
    One of the reasons I'm not a novel writer (the longest story I ever wrote probably didn't exceed 35 pages, and though the dialogue was decent, the plot was not strong) is that I have a hard time coming up with plots instead of vague ideas.

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    2. By the way, I nominated you for the Blogger Recognition Award. :) Here's a link, should you choose to participate: http://styleforreallife.blogspot.com/2016/10/tag-blogger-recognition-award.html

    3. Plots have never been my best friend either, but I love writing so I plough through. God sometimes makes it easier on me by just plopping a plot right in my lap, which is always nice. But it's not always that easy.

      Thanks for nominating me! I haven't done a tag in a long while...could be fun :)

  2. ah, outlines were never my favorite either!
    but it seems as though you found an effective way for you to write!
    many blessings...


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