Wednesday, June 10, 2009

To Outline or Not to Outline?

I’ve started writing a new story. This is always so exhilarating that working on the newbie is just about all that I want to do. But being in this place also reminds me of the question that often inspires debate: To outline or not to outline? When I first started writing DOG GONE, I dove right in, outline-less. To this day, the mere memory of this painful experience makes me cringe and reach for the aspirins. But at least I learned one valuable lesson--I am an outliner.

Writing BUCK FEVER, then, reminded me of building a house. The basic story idea of a boy coming to terms with who and what he is (or is not) became the foundation. Outlining the story was much like putting up the scaffolding or frame of the house. Once the foundation was set, I picked out what I suspected to be the right materials to build the skeleton--materials from the frenzy of exciting thoughts and ideas banging against each other inside my head. I organized and sorted them, placed them and connected them. I figured out layers and subplots to attach to these ideas and set them in the story foundation. All of this made the actual writing of BUCK FEVER much, much easier.

Now I’m following this outline model for the new story. I have my foundation. Once I hammer the ideas into a frame, I will step back and look it over. If the shape of it or the structure itself is not what I want, if it doesn’t feel sturdy, I can remove or adjust or replace any or all of the scaffolding. If necessary, I can rework the form of my building. No biggie. Heck, I can even re-lay the foundation. But if I’d already nailed in the walls, slapped on a roof and put up the siding? Ugh. Reworking that house would be a daunting task. A demolition crew would probably be required.

Now excuse me while I strap on my tool belt and go back to my outline. Let me know if I can lend you a hammer.


  1. I loved reading this. Your allegory of writing using an outline to building a house was great and it made me understand why it is so important to write a book with an outline! I just love the way you phrase things. Your friend & fan, Linda

  2. I've tried both...outlining and not and I agree, I think it makes it easier to plan ahead. I loved how you compared it to building a house!
    ~ Wendy