I believe there are two types of writers. Innies hold the story inside, letting it dribble out bit by bit with no idea of where it is going (aka pantsers because they write by the seat of their pants). Outies outline the story before they begin and know exactly where they are going (aka as outliners for obvious reasons). I started off as an innie. I think most writers do because usually we don’t have a clue on how to write a book. We have an idea and a desire. Eventually we give in to it and set pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, to see what happens—to find out if we have what it takes to tell a story. A compelling story. A story that people can’t put down, that editors beg to publish, and agents fight one another to represent. (I have to have a big imagination. I write science fiction.)
I wrote my first novel as an innie, never knowing what was going to happen next. It all finally came together in a climax, however there was a lot of wandering through the story before I got there. I realized early on that if I didn’t want to spend most of my writing time rewriting it would be much quicker if I knew what my plot was before I started. Writing time is premium time for me. I don’t have a lot of it so I needed to maximize what I had.
I’ve noticed that people who are committed innies love to rewrite. For them the first draft is a time of discovery. They write to find out what their story is about. Then they gleefully jump into the rewrite, because at heart they love editing. In the second draft they tell the story they discovered in the first draft. This entails a lot of cutting to get rid of extraneous scenes and characters, fleshing out other characters and deepening arcs, and writing completely new scenes now that they know what their story is about. It may even involve writing a new climax.
Outlining has helped me become a better writer. It’s not just a time saver. It helps me build a structure for the story that works on multiple levels. I can see connections between characters and actions easier. Outlining strips away the decoration and lets me see the bare studs holding up the scene. It’s like composition in art. Composition holds an illustration together. Outlining holds a plot together. It’s the blueprint for my story.
Are you ready to convert from being an innie to an outie? Does it bother you to throw out half of your first draft because you didn’t know who your main character was? Does editing sap your energy until you feel like a prehistoric slug worm squished between the Jurassic and Cretaceous? Are you frustrated when the 300,000 word manuscript you labored over for a year ended up being 65,000 words once you cut all of the extraneous detail and irrelevant scenes from the first draft? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, then it’s time to change your writing and convert to outlining. But what exactly do outliners do behind closed study doors? Check back next week to find out.