One of the central debates among writers is whether intricately planning the details of a
story or flying by the seat of your pants provides the bigger payoff for readers. Some
declare themselves unabashed pantsers and some live by the rigid outlines and
genealogies they create. Most writers fall somewhere in between these two extremes,
existing on a continuum. There are pros and cons to each method and room for both
approaches to be used within the same work.
A friend of mine writes thorough outlines but then allows herself to let her imagination
go wild within the scene, so long as she gets her character from Point A to Point B.
Free reign. Kind of. I like it.
This is probably the best time to confess that while the idea of outlines appeals to me,
they are not my strong suit. I can remember struggling with them in my English Comp
classes, feeling that they were an unnecessary burden and that my writing was stronger
when I didn’t have to follow a roadmap.
The truth though is that outlines also help lay the groundwork for structural soundness,
the presence of conflict and its resolution, and consistency. While my work is praised for
things like worldbuilding and style, readers are sometimes confused. Transitions are not
always strong. Conflict is not always clear. Pacing is not always appropriate to the
Outlining could improve my writing. And I’m at the stage in my writer’s journey where I
really, really want that. Because I have places to go, stories to tell. And because I want
my readers to be able to follow me as I lead them into the dark recesses of their own
My current work in process is a cozy cosmic horror (yes, that is totally a thing.) It is
largely being adapted from a thing I began and put down about a year ago. I will look at
what I have, add the elements that cozify it, and create an outline from what I have. If
elements are confusing or missing altogether, I will consider how to correct this before
submitting. I will look at the aspects of the “Hero’s Journey” and make sure I have a
story arc that is effective for the story I’m trying to tell. And I will have people read it to
make sure it makes sense, flows, intrigues, surprises, delights, thrills, unnerves…just
I write this post to make an important point – we all struggle. The creative act is a
process and processes by their very definition involve steps. The same process doesn’t
necessarily work for every project or every person. Finding what works for us is its own
process. Experimenting, fine-tuning our processes, opening our work up to critique, and
remaining teachable are the cornerstones of crafting the story we really want to tell.
So, keep showing up and doing your thing.
And maybe when all else fails, write an outline.