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Narrativity Online: Outlining

Welcome to Online Panel #1: Outlining! Or as our Plenipotentiary of Panels so eloquently puts it:

Okay, so, god damn it, how DO you outline? No, seriously, tell me. Also, let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages of outlining and “pantsing.” Yes, yes, I know both are valid, and the dispute will never be settled; but that doesn’t mean we can’t get useful things out of the discussion.

Our panelists are Ivery Kirk, Steven Brust, Tyler Tork, Molly Fennig, and Skyler Gray, with video production by Jenphalian.


The comment section is open for discussion, questions, and general fun!

6 thoughts on “Narrativity Online: Outlining

  1. That’s A Different Panel:

    How to Get Unstuck

    Can writing tell people anything they don’t already know? (Steve & Molly, for this one.)

  2. This is a fascinating exploration, and I wish we could make it widely available. BTW, a shout out to Molly Fennig: so glad you are here and doing what you are doing. There is a crying need for good councelors and good literature addressing the realities YA readers are living with. We need a new Mercedes Lackey.
    Okay, on to Outline Comments:
    I learned how to outline for writing essays. For non-fiction, outlines are a functional way to organize information one wishes to present. The cool thing about outlining information is, one’s sense of aesthetics, of wordplay, of graceful segues, even of puns looks at the outline the way Loki looks at the world, saying, “How can I play with this?” So organization and creativity both find a way into the work.
    The primary virtue of outlining is making sure important stuff doesn’t get left out. You can review an outline and see where the holes are, or, if you are too purblind to see them, someone else will be happy to point them out to you.
    The problem with outlines is, they rarely serve fiction well.
    Writers who prewrite most of their story tend to work better with chunking, writing notes or paragraphs on index cards, which they later organize into a chronological or presentational sequence (the two are rarely the same).
    An alternative for “pants” writers, a sort of Woods Between the Worlds approach to organizing yet not imposing structure, is to make mind maps or mind webs, which tease out relationships and associations — the obvious and the linear, but also the obscure, subliminal, and intuitive. Then you have a visual reference for what will happen of its own accord when you pull a thread in your story. Another great thing about mind maps is how easily you can add to them.

    1. Hey, feel free to send anybody who’s interested here!

      I think there’s room for any and all processes in the wide spectrum of writers, including hard-core outliners. I personally bounce right off of the idea of any kind of formal outline, but then I’ve never gotten much out of mind maps and such, either. I usually get story ideas as the actual words of the story, so for me, any “pre-work” is actually just snippets of the text that will appear in the final version. Those snippets probably carry more weight and more implications for me than they would for a reader, so I suppose in a way you could consider them a sort of reference for where I’m going — but it’s still all about the words.

  3. Steve’s comments about his crisis of faith were like looking in a mirror. I had a very similar failure of process with the last book I finished, and I’m still struggling over it.

    So I’m both intrigued and puzzled by the idea of an outline as a way to avoid running aground like that. I mean, I can see that having an outline means you can lean on it while you’re writing, but doesn’t that just move the problem earlier? I can just as easily envision myself sitting there with a half-finished outline crying “Yes, but what happens next?!?” as with a half-finished novel. (Or more easily, since outlining does not come naturally to me, but that’s a separate issue.) Doesn’t outlining just mean you hit that particular brick wall sooner? Or am I missing something here?

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