Sunday, August 07, 2016


Left-brain types outline articles and books routinely even compulsively, right-brainers often don’t or, at least, not as much. The latter individuals are known as pantsers – they fly by the seat of their pants.

Outlines should never be confused with synopses, they serve a different purpose. Outlines are prepared before a book or article is begun as a guideline and to ensure the writer doesn't forget anything important.
I’ve heard writing instructors teach that an outline is essential and I’ve heard several bestselling authors say they’ve never outlined a book in their lives. My two favourite editors, who have seen it all before, predict a scattered and rambling manuscript without an outline. So what is a writer to do? Probably, what works best for you, which is not very helpful advice.

I'm more left-brained than right so I have always found it easy to outline nonfiction books and articles and in doing so it clarifies my perspective and sharpens the focus. But it was challenging to outline my first novel. I knew my starting point and theme, but not much more. I decided to proceed anyway and the story began to flow. At that point I was able to create a rough outline – turning points, throughlines, rising conflict, resolution, etc. I was more right-brained than I knew. (Bear in mind that your outline should be flexible and not cast in stone.) But I couldn't manage to break it down further into scenes. From that crucial insight, I finally appreciated the novelists' dilemma and struggle. 

Fiction outlines prevent sagging middles, unnecessary scenes, poor chronology, and slippage of tension. If you like to write to a goal of 1000 words a day, your pace may outstrip your plotting (mine did) and this, too, is a strong indication for an outline. Outlines can also keep writer’s block at bay, which is a comforting thought, and can also guide the composition of sizzling long and short synopses.

There are as many ways to tackle an outline as there are writers, and methods can be simple or complex. Books on the craft of writing shed light on techniques to solve the outlining predicament. I recommend two by Elizabeth Lyon (A Writer’s Guide to Nonfiction and A Writer’s Guide to Fiction), which have valuable guidance on organizing your work-in-progress.

Good luck and know that the first outline of your life is the most challenging!

Here are two websites to assist you:

© Julie H. Ferguson 2016