Discovery Writing v Outlines – Have an End in Mind

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As I dive into my revised outline before I assault the mountain that is the second draft I thought I’d write about my thoughts on a subject that gets debated a lot online, plotting v pantsing.

These can be viewed as two extremes of a spectrum. Plotting is all about having a firm outline before you start writing and mostly sticking to it as you know where it is going. Pantsing is all about having an idea and discovering the plot as you go, writing by the seat of your pants.

Very few writers will sit firmly in one camp or another, most will exist somewhere in between. I sit on the plotting side, I write outlines and try to stick to them for the first draft. However I will make big changes for the second draft, and I’m flexible about making more changes as I go along so I have elements of the pantsing side in my approach.

If you are writing a series (and my books are now looking to be a series of four rather than a trilogy) I feel some outlining will always be necessary to plot out the overall story-arcs and make sure it is all consistent.

For me this discussion about how you approach writing a book will always come down to what works best for each individual writer. Whatever works best for you is what matters. More important to me is something that can be applied to both approaches.

Have an ending in mind

This to me is crucial whether you outline or use the discovery method, you need to have an idea of where you are going with it. It’s no use just writing whatever comes to mind if you are just rambling around desperately trying to work out where you are going, if you have a vague idea what your ending will be it is something you can push towards, you know your book needs to end up there.

It doesn’t matter if it all changes in the next draft, or it goes odd twists and turns on the way, moving your story towards that ending will save you a lot of time around the middle trying to see where it is all going. The ending may change completely once you get there, just have a vague flag off in the distance you can work towards.

So with all that said, here are some tips of what else to think about as you do your thing.

  • What is the story about? – Without any idea of what story you want to tell you are not going to get very far. Think about what the core idea of what you want to write is and always keep that in mind. Having a section detailing the intricate workings of the political system you’ve created for your word might be fascinating, but is it relevant to the story you are telling? Every scene you write should be about moving the story forward or telling us something about the characters involved in it.
  • Who are the characters and what do they want? – Who the hell is the reader following through this story? They need to have their own goals that give them the motivation that will help the reader understand their actions. If they don’t have something they want, what is pushing them forward in the story?
  • How is the story being told? – Is the reader experiencing this through someone’s eyes or from some third person perspective that doesn’t let them into the characters head? You should have this nailed down by the time you’ve got your rough first draft done. That is going to be almost completely rewritten so you can change your mind by the time that is done without much harm, but if you decide to change this later on that is a lot you will have to change.