Sunday, February 21, 2010

Outlining versus Winging It

When I write a business letter or report, I outline every point before I start writing. Until recently, when I wrote fiction, I simply sat down and started writing, allowing the characters and their stories to emerge from the mists of my subconscious.

That may work for some kinds of stories, but lately I am increasingly inclined to rely on at least a general outline.

My drafting process has evolved to something like this:
  • Idea (often from a dream).
  • Let the idea simmer for a few weeks or months (the stronger and more urgent the idea the shorter the "fallow" time will be)
  • Write a tentative first chapter. For that, I use no outline or advance planning. I simply let the story go, in order to get to know who the protagonist is and what POV may be appropriate.
  • Map out a general outline for the story with a beginning, middle, and end, and perhaps the main sub-plot included. Ending can be sketchy, but at least I have a general idea of where the story is headed.
  • Review the outline and refine the first chapter.
  • Write a intro paragraphs for the significant events and map out sketchy bios for the main characters with a little back story and their agendas.
  • Start writing the first draft.
When I finish the draft, I let it sit for a while -- weeks or perhaps even months -- before I start editing.

Tips? Suggestions? Comments?



  1. I haven't figured out what my process is since this is my first novel, but after reading about yours...I have to say, it sounds a lot like what I have been doing!

  2. I think the whole thing is a very organic process and every story is different. This latest one literally wrote itself. All I had to do was keep up!

    Good luck with yours!

  3. That's cool - I do it almost exactly in the same manner!

  4. Time will tell if my more organized approach will get me any nibbles from agents. The good part is that I feel as though I'm making forward progress in developing as a writer.

    That's, after all, the real goal here!