Outlining for Fun and Profit (or not)

I managed to outline my current novel! Yay!

I've never managed this before. Granted, it is a pretty shallow outline, very superficial. It only hits the biggest points. I'll still need to fill in an enormous amount as I write. There are several places that say "Niabi learns something, which leads her to do such-and-such." I'm not exaggerating, this is verbatim.

But I can trace the most important events of the three main storylines, and that makes me feel better about the whole project. I was having trouble managing the complexity of the plot before - likely contributing to how little progress I was making.

I'm making more progress now, thank goodness. So I'm pretty happy to have a dim light to brighten the path.

I doubt I will ever be a super heavy outliner. It just isn't natural to me, but I do see the benefits of it. I've read the books and done some of the exercises. I understand the basics of plotting and story structure. But it turns out I just don't see stories like that. It is a struggle to untangle other people's stories, and even harder to see my own like that.

I'd rather think of an event or situation and follow my character's reaction to it until that makes something else happen. I can always tell when I hit on how my character would feel or what she would do. It all clicks and I know it is right. I think that's why I write in fits and starts - I need pondering time.

And interestingly enough, just like I need that pondering time before I sit down to write a scene, I couldn't force the outline either. To me, outlining was a task of organization - if I can just state what I need, I can think of what to fill the gap with. Logical, defined, nice and neat. But not so.

Writing the outline still required getting into the heads of my characters, only on that slightly higher level that has, until now, developed naturally from the consistent choices and behavior of my characters. In other words, I had to figure out what larger picture would develop from the interplay of the characters before I wrote those interactions. I guess some people, outlining people, must look at it the other way - the big picture comes easily, and then they worry about what small situations can add up to that big picture.

Even a glimpse of that higher level took a long time to form in my head and on paper, which must be why I won't ever be a natural outliner. I'll struggle with it and I'll benefit from the work, because in order to write the complex stories I like, I'll need to keep practicing my outline skills. But I don't think I'll have a really good view of my story before it is written. And that's OK, because I get a thrill from pantsing it, and I'm not afraid of rewriting!

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