When starting a project, it can be kind of difficult to know how much you should plan for it. I find that ultimately it depends on the project itself, but over the years I’ve found ways to identify if an outline is key to the success of the piece.
It’s also worth noting that outlining isn’t for everyone. Some people are natural “pantsers” (flying by the seat of their pants) and that’s very valid! But I’ve found it to be extremely valuable and have had much less success in project completion when pantsing versus outlining.
Deciding to Use an Outline
Now, when deciding on if an outline is necessary for the project, think about how it will benefit you and your story. Personally, I’ve always had an outline for longer projects, but much shorter ones don’t always warrant them. Considering your headspace is also important. It’s easier to write sometimes than others, depending on how you’re feeling. I’ve been able to whip out 4k words in a day, and some days I can barely hit 250 words. On the days where I’m not able to write as much, an outline can be really helpful to move forward to project completion. And on the days where I can write quite a bit, sometimes I’m able to write a whole story draft in one go. So really, it does depend and does take a lot of thinking.
Structuring an Outline
Moving forward, if you have decided to use an outline, here’s what I recommend to do. First, write down everything you know about your story. Ideally you’ll want to do this in chronological order, but that can be sorted out later. The main goal is to get all your information down, either in a word document or on paper. I prefer to outline on paper initially, as I find it helps my thoughts flow better.
Once you have your preliminary outline down, think about how you want to expand on it all. This is when you want to start reorganizing everything in the order you want it to be. Remember, outlines are working documents and subject to change, so don’t feel as if you need to get everything outlined at once.
From there, your outline can continue to be developed. I like to put as many key scenes as possible in my outline, and categorize by each act or major event in the story. These act as checkpoints for me when writing, and make it easier for me to develop the plot and characters through each category. But really, your outline is yours to be developed and built upon in whatever way you want; a lot of it is about experimenting and finding what works best for you!
All in all, I do hope these pointers helped, and as a key part of the way I write I wanted to lay this out in my writing series. Let me know what you think in the comments below!