Are You A Pantser or Outliner?

Writing outlines is a part of the writing process that some writers need to keep focused on the task at hand.

Others just start putting words on paper and hope that they end up with a finished book.

Whether or not you decide to use an outline is up to personal preference, and there are many good writers in either category.

Authors have even given themselves names to identify which category they fall under regarding this issue.

Pantsers are the authors who do not use outlines because they “write by the seat of their pants.”

Outliners are the authors that use outlines as they write their novel to help them keep track of everything.

Stephen King is an avowed Pantser, while J.K. Rowling is a known Outliner.

Some authors need a strict outline to work with, while others need a more flexible alternative so that they can rearrange things if new issues or subplots happen.

What Is An Outline?

An outline is a roadmap or blueprint of where you want your novel to go and how you intend to get there.

They can be as simple as a few words jotted down on a notepad so that you can quickly see your key points as a reference, or as detailed as a spreadsheet with every minor detail plotted in advance.

They can also be very helpful to a new writer so that you do not miss any of your key character arcs or forget to add the factor that ties all of your other characters together.

Think of an outline as the skeleton of your writing.  You add the muscle and tissue with your content.

The outline is just the bare bones that you are going to add everything else to in a logical way.

Who Needs An Outline?

An outline is very beneficial to a new writer who has not learned how to keep on point with their plot.

While it may be fun to put words on paper and just see where it takes you, a new writer will often find when they finish, that they have important plot holes that do not take the story to the conclusion that they envisioned.

An outline is also very helpful to those of us who get easily distracted and move from one idea to another quickly.  On my desktop, I would often have three blog posts in current production, and I moved between them as the ideas came to me or if I got stuck and needed to work on something else while I researched.

An outline helps me focus on one at a time so that I finish one project before starting another project.

An outline is also helpful to new writers because when you feel stuck and not sure what else to write, you can refer back to it to see what you need to do next.

How To Write An Outline

Any English teacher or professor worth their title probably taught you how to outline a paper, but because it probably bored you to tears while you were learning it, you promptly forgot about it when it wasn’t necessary for a grade anymore.

There are several ways to outline, and which you use boils down to preference.

You can use a writing app such as Scrivener, a notepad you keep near you when writing, or a corkboard near your desk that you can reference. You can read my Scrivener review here.

You can use a simple or complex outline.

Simple Outline

A simple outline would look something like this: 

  • A. Chapter One – Sigmund decides to go to a writers’ conference to learn to write mystery novels.
  •  B. Chapter Two – Sigmund meets some new friends and they form a study group.
  •  C. Chapter Three – One of the sponsors of the conference turns up dead in the laundry chute.
  •  D. Chapter Four – Sigmund and his friends find clues about the murder. 
  • E. Chapter Five – Sigmund and his friends collaborate to write a book about their adventure.

As you can see, this is a barebones outline that will keep you on track without any detail to stifle your creative flow.

One of the reasons pantsers do not like outlines is because they feel it doesn’t leave room for their creative process. 

Complex Outline

A complex outline will help you get all your key points involved in the writing process so that you don’t forget them.

An example of a complex outline would look something like this:

  •  A. Chapter One Sigmund receives an invitation in the mail about an upcoming writing conference.
    • 1. Sigmund talks to his friends and family about the great opportunity.
    • 2. Sigmund arrives at the writers’ conference and meets the sponsors of the event.
      • a. Jason Whitman is the event planner.
      • b. Alison Johnson is Jason Whitman’s assistant
      • c. Arnold Stetman is a speaker at the event.
      • d. Martha Rogers is an editor for Mystery Writers International magazine.
  •   B. Chapter Two
    • 1. Sigmund meets new authors at the conference who are interested in learning mystery writing.
      • a. Denise Williams is a 19-year-old college student, and her favorite author is ………….

I think you get the picture.

The detailed outline can be as narrow or as fleshed out as you prefer to make it.

You could give more information about the characters under each of the character names, for example.

This type of outline is very helpful to new writers as everything is plotted out in advance and leaves no room for forgetting a key element.

Pantser Or Outliner

Whether you consider yourself a Pantser or an Outliner will greatly determine what type of outline you write or whether you write one at all.

There is no right or wrong way to write as long as you do. So, get out there and start your novel!

Write an outline to help you stay on point with your writing.