Outlining versus Discovery Writing

July 18, 2021 maddoctorartist 0 Comments


Hello again! Today I'd like to dip into the writing side of things and discuss the two main methods of plotting out a book. This is an essential step when thinking about how to get a story on paper, but there are two extreme ways to go about it.

The first is outlining, which is the side I fall on. Writers who outline can write out exact plot beats, character moments, scenes and list out things usually in chronological order. This gives a clear map of the entire story, which can then be expanded upon. Outlines aren't rigid, however, and can still be changed further down the line if things develop differently to planned.

The second is discovery writing, or 'pantsers' (people who write by the seat of their pants). Here you write the story and see where it naturally goes, coming back to edit for consistency or changes. It's more free-form, and some people prefer the lack of structure to get their ideas down.

In actuality, most writers fall on a spectrum between the two, and I didn't realise at first but I actually do incorporate elements of the discovery method. I thought therefore it would be useful to share my experience to give some insight into how these methods are not as completely opposed as they appear.

The shackles of an outlinePlanning an outline is quite a precise effort...

My first two books, The Goddess's Binding and The Goddess's Parting, I wrote using an outline. The first chapter of The Goddess's Binding, however, was a discovery chapter. All I had was the image of the scene in my head- a girl hiding in a forest because of a vulnerable heart. I didn't know her name, her personality, or anything, so that first chapter was good to explore the girl who would become Eliza. Her voice quickly came through, and after a few revisions I was able to get her down.

After this I fleshed out her backstory and what her journey would be, along with other characters.

A problem with this however came up with the third book, The Goddess's Blessing. I had a seven year break (due to my medical training and falling out of love with writing), so it was difficult to come back to. For this book I ended up re-writing the outline several times, with the last one being a complete depature from the original plot when I came up with a new character.

While it did make the final product much better, I did find it quite inefficient as I was spending more time re-writing the outline that writing the actual book!

So for my next book, I wanted to try something new...

The freedom of discovery

The world is yours to explore...

For my current book in progress, The Sorceror's Lament, it required quite an extensive re-write of the original outline initially (I wrote it several years ago), but even then I found elements lacking. Rather than waste time with a 30th re-write, having gone down that path for my last book, I decided to just keep the main plot beats in mind and write without a guide.

This proved a much better use of my time, as I was able to see Jessie (the new protagonist) clearer, and she's ended up quite different to how I initially planned her. This has also been the case for newer characters who've appeared who weren't in the original outline.

The book is almost done, and I've written the bulk of it in three months- quite an improvement over 7 years! I've also not had to re-write elements as much, given that I only outlined a chapter or two ahead at a time (and the ending), which has also been quite a time-saver.

The best of both worlds

Of course, every author is different and will lean more one or other method, but I thought it would be fun to share that even outliners can wander down an unknown road, and I'm sure there's many discovery writers who appreciate having a bit of stucture to work with!

My advice for writers is to experiment and see what works for you- be wary of books or how-to guides that claim one method is better than the other, as it depends so much on your workflow, personality, other life commitments and much more.

Are you a discovery writer or an outliner? Why do you think your chosen method works better for you? Please share, I'd love to know!

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