Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

To Outline or Not to Outline: That is the Question

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Before you sit down to write, do you plan what will happen in the scene or chapter, or do you just go for it and let the words come out? This is a common question discussed among writers – I’ve seen it phrased as are you a “plotter” (an outliner) or a “panster” (someone who just writes without a plan). I think I’m somewhere in the middle, and there are definitely pros and cons for both.

There’s a certain amount of magic and imagination involved in writing. That’s why we do it, right? We love telling stories and we love seeing what happens when we face the blank page (or the bright screen of our Macbook). I believe that first drafts don’t need an outline. You’re still figuring out the story, the characters, what you want to say. Having too strict or rigid of a plan might hinder your creative process. First drafts are all about being free and creative and getting the words down. You can always fix them later.

But having a rough idea of where you want your story to go isn’t a bad idea. Otherwise you might end up with a bunch of scenes that all essentially say the same thing, with repeated action or dialogue. Of course, that’s not a problem for a draft since you can always cut those scenes or rewrite them. But it makes your job a lot easier if you can make sure your scenes have enough action in them early enough so your later drafts involve polishing and working out plot and character details and fixing any plot holes or loose ends.

So that’s how I work – writing freely for my first draft, and then writing an outline for each chapter for later drafts. My outline always changes – right now I have two notebooks full of crossed out notes. But knowing where you’re going helps keep the story strong, and can give you confidence that although there are a lot of things about a writing career that you can’t control, you can always be in total control of your story.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Aya Tsintziras

Aya Tsintziras is the author of the YA novel Pretty Bones, which was selected for the Canadian Book Centre's Best Books for Kids and Teens in Spring 2012. She has a BA in Political Science from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing a Masters of Journalism at Ryerson University.

Go to Aya Tsintziras’s Author Page