Monday, October 25, 2010


I learned a long time ago that I am a writer who cannot write without pre-planning. Dull, but true. Without an outline, I tend to write in circles or spend long periods staring at the screen imploring it "But what happens next?" I don't outline every single thing but before I start in on that first draft I will know:

All the main characters' ages, habits and prejudices. I also know everyone's motives. (remember, I write mysteries)

I know who gets along and who doesn't.

I know who died.

I know who did it.

I know why they did it.

I know the setting.

I write an order of occurrences. This stops me from making major timeline errors.

This master list gets broken down into smaller lists - it's almost a running sequence of scenes.

Of course, things get moved around. Characters grow and reveal sides of themselves I had no idea existed. But those outlines keep me sane. Or relatively so. There are days when I'll take all the help I can get.


  1. I absolutely love making lists when it comes to writing. :) Helps me keep different things straight and also helps with brainstorming. Mine is less of an outline and more of a character development arc, list of possible motives, etc. I love hearing how other writers write!

  2. Elspeth - You and I are, I think, kindred spirits when it comes to pre-planning. I always try to outline, too. I like to know who the victim is, who the killer is, what their connection is, who gets along with (or doesn't) with whom, in other words, that network of relationships. Then I'm ready to put the story together. I admire people who can just write without that kind of outline. I am not one of those people.

    I like your idea of writing down the order of occurrences, too. That's a great way to avoid timeline blunders (and I've made 'em).

  3. Good for you. I outline "after the fact" - once I determine what happened, when, who, etc., THEN I put it on my tracking board. I wrote Hidden Fire without knowing who the victim was, who killed him, or why until well past the halfway point of the manuscript. But it all fit.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  4. Elizabeth; I adore lists. I completely understand about your character development arcs - work at the beginning saves me so much work later on!

    Margot; I admire those writers who can write without outlines, but I simply can't do it! I need to know as much as possible before I start wading into the pool. After all, if there's something scary in the water, I'd like as much warning as possible.

  5. Terry; I have nothing but admiration for you - I could never write without a net. Wow.

  6. I'm with you - I need to write towards something or I drive myself crazy! I need to know at least the major turning points.

  7. Talli; I love the way you put that - writing towards something. That's exactly how I feel. If I don't know where I'm going, how on earth am I going to get there?

  8. In the past I considered myself an equal mix of plotter and pantser. My current WIP, which has been my current WIP for way too long, has made me reconsider. I'm going to know way more before I begin the next one. I have a notebook open on my desk and continue to make notes in appropriately titled sections so that I can put them in some kind of order before I ever open a new document to write the first word.

  9. Carol; I swear it saves time in the end. And I know exactly what you mean about the current WIP being the current for way too long. Exactly.

  10. Actually, that's exactly the way I work. Sometimes my characters will jump out at me and say book and then I have to shift things around but for the most part. I have all information before I start.


  11. I used to be a complete pantser. That's how I ended up with a 1000 page manuscript with no conclusion (like the character Michael Douglas did so brilliantly in Wonder Boys.) So now I outline. Do I stick to the outline--nah. But it still helps me focus. Good post.

  12. Someday I’m going to be organized, too!) I do need to at least try a loose outline to see if that would work better then my wait-to-see-what-happens method I'm using now.

  13. I take notes, lots and lots of notes. I can usually remember what page they are on if I write them by hand. But outlining? We'll see.


  14. I'm doing more timelines and lists than I used to.


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