WAW: Why I believe in outlines

Writing About Writing: A once-a-week post about some aspect of writing. I’m not an expert; I’m just some guy. Take it with a grain of salt.


Outline (n.) – A (in my case) painstakingly detailed document that lays out what’s going to happen in each and every scene in a story/novel/etc.

Architects and Gardeners

People Who Write Things ™ talk about “architects” and “gardeners” (here’s a good quote on the topic from GRRM). The short version goes something like this:

  • Architects: Plan everything out.
  • Gardeners: Have the “seed” of an idea and let it grow without too much planning.

One of these isn’t necessarily better than the other. Depending on how people think about their own process, the definition quickly gets murky. There could be gardeners who write outlines but then let things grow organically from point A to point B in that outline. Likewise, there could be architects who plan things in their head but never put a thing down on paper before starting to write.

Outlines are good for everyone

Regardless of how people define themselves, outlines work.

I have too much to say about outlines, but for this week I just want to state that OUTLINES ARE GREAT. Whatever outline you can tolerate making in whatever amount or lack of detail IS GREAT. It doesn’t matter how you write or how “authentic” or “organic” you want your super special magical writing time to be

OUTLINES

ARE

GREAT

But why?

Because outlines are the place where you kill your darlings.

Darlings are those things that sneak into your story that you just can’t let go of. You made a character and you love him. You made a city and just have to tell the reader about its extensive plumbing network. You wrote a scene that just speaks to your soul.

In novel or story form, that shit will stick. Revision after revision, those darlings will hang around. Because now they’re real; now they exist on the page and you’re too attached to let go.

But in outline form? In outline form those darlings aren’t darlings. They’re bullet points. They’re sketches. They’re lists of ideas. They’re notes for future use.

And you can kill them.

But wait, there’s more

There are approximately a gajillion more excellent reasons to write a fucking outline, but I’m going to stop there this week.

Tl;dr: Write an outline. Kill your darlings.

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