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Which is the Best Outlining Style for you?

Oh man. Outlining. Some of us dread it. Some of us love it. Did you know you could be dreading it because you’re not outlining the way that’s best for you, as a writer? A lot of times, we are trying to make a corner piece fit into the middle of a puzzle, when it comes to outlining. It’s just not going to work and get you that beautiful end result. So take a moment to figure out the type of outlining that may be right for you. First, let’s start with the four basic types.

If you’ve been writing for a while, you may have a pretty solid idea of what works for you and what doesn’t. But if you’re new to this life of writing, or if you’re a veteran, you still may be asking yourself, which outlining type is best for me?

The Writer Community has got you covered! Here’s a very basic (and fun) test to take to try and figure out where your most success may lie. These are just the four main ways to outline. You can—and will—make any number of combinations with them, and you may even have another method not even mentioned here.

  1. Video meetings, our favorite time of the day! You:

    1. You’re dressed from the waist up and your hair is the minimal amount of effort. Perhaps some glasses to hide your face a bit more. And you’re prepared to turn on your camera, only if someone asks you to

    2. You think about the topic of the call, who will be on it, the time of day, and then calculate the likelihood that you will be asked to show your face and dress accordingly

    3. Have other tasks open on other screens. You’re in the same pajamas you’ve been wearing for the past week. There are empty coffee cups over every free surface of your desk and you literally just rolled out of bed seconds before the call started

    4. Have your make up done, hair brushed, clothes on (all of them), and your camera on!

  2. When it comes to work projects:

    1. You prefer to know what the goal is and a few expected progress points are but be left to your own devices to get there

    2. You want to know what’s expected of you, the resources you have, the end goal, the timeline and progress points expected. Here’s my hand, just hold it, please

    3. You wish you worked somewhere more creative, like Google or Apple, where you come up with your own way to solve problems and projects

    4. You like to know which projects are on the schedule well in advance so that you can start planning and making the way to getting them done when the time comes

  3. Your dream job is:

    1. Something that has firm guidelines or rules, but the freedom to move around inside them would be amazing (finance, corporations, marketing)

    2. Something that is rigid and unbendable. You know there are a set of rules and laws that govern what you will be doing. There is safety in certainty (doctor, lawyer, etc)

    3. Oh man, to teach someone else something or to do something that effects someone long-term would be amazing (teacher, stay at home parent, farmer/rancher, etc)

    4. Something you get to decide each morning (influencer, self-employed, writer, freeloader)

  4. You’re on a forest hike and you:

    1. Stay on the trails but decide last minute to take a different fork

    2. Study the exact trails you need to take to get to that one lake your bff was telling you about

    3. Don’t see any forest rangers so you high-tail it off road and into the wilderness

    4. Stick to the trails and see where the end takes you, there could be bears out there

  5. Ugh. It’s dinner time? Again?

    1. Hmmm…I think I saw some frozen chicken and I have some tomato sauce and cream. Voila! Dinner

    2. No problem, you already planned and prepped your meals last week

    3. Well, I guess I should eat what’s about to expire

    4. Where are my takeout menus?

  6. You’re bookshelves

    1. Have craft books on the bottom shelf, your favorite books on the shelf above that, and nonfiction on another shelf. Maybe one is dedicated to being pretty, maybe not. And this is all subject to change

    2. Are organized based off of colors. Rainbows are always pretty

    3. You’re supposed to organize your bookshelves? You thought they were only meant to hold books

    4. Is aesthetically pleasing. I have candles and foliage and figurines. There are some books, too, but they’re grouped by color and texture to compliment the tchotchkes

  7. It’s a pre-pandemic world, and your friends want to go out. Again. You:

    1. Decide you’ll meet them for dinner but depending on how it goes and how you’re feeling, drinks and the dancing after may not be on your schedule

    2. It really depends on who’s going, what you’ll be doing, and how early you need to wake up tomorrow

    3. Heck to the yes! Let’s do this!

    4. You’ve already seen these lovable clowns twice this week and you just want to binge Netflix

  8. Your character does something unexpected:

    1. Okay, cool. Thought maybe something like that would come later on down the road, but whatevs

    2. You totally knew that was going to happen. They are a ENTJ-A, after all

    3. Uh, excuse me. WTH was that?

    4. Oh, interesting. So that’s the kind of person they are

  9. Friendships:

    1. The possibility for a friendship is everywhere! You spend time with them to see if it’s something that will work out and you’ll mesh with, if it doesn’t work out, that’s totally okay

    2. You already know the types of people that you can and can’t be friends with. You don’t waste time trying to make something work that won’t

    3. Are really easy for you to make, they’re instant and intense

    4. It takes a while for you to warm up to someone, but once you do, it’s a solid friendship

  10. In general:

    1. You like to know exactly what it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’d rather know what is expected of you than have to guess

    2. It makes you feel scattered if you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going

    3. You have a hard time following direction given to you and often deviate to do your own thing

    4. You’re okay with improvising after you’ve started something, depending on the circumstances

Mostly As

You’re a Plantser! You like wearing pants. You really do, but perhaps, maybe sometimes….when you’re alone in your house, you like to be a little risqué and go commando. But only when others aren’t around.

You like the idea of an outline, think it could be cool, and want to dabble in the possibility of being organized and thought out, but aren’t really willing to commit to the entire relationship. That’s totally cool. Being a plantser allows you the structure of having a rough pre-planned route to your destination (if you have one in mind) but gives you the freedom to veer off road to see some other destinations along the way. Guilt-free.

Mostly Bs

You’re a Traditional Outliner/ Plotter! You have headers, footers. You have bullet points and subpoints and those have subpoints, too. You know the backstory of every character in the book and every character you’ve scratched. You know where the story will be heading in book six of the series and the driving motivation and core love languages of each of your characters. You’ve mapped out your settings and know how many shingles are on the dilapidated pub down the road. You also know which characters are getting spinoff series.

Okay, maybe you don’t have that much detail mapped out, but the point of being an outliner is that you have a pretty strong sense of what your story is and where you want it to go. You like things organized and your scene and chapter outlines are either just a few words that remind you of everything you need to write, or they’re detailed enough to be the chapter, itself. The main thing is that you’ve written down where you think you want the story to go, before your hands hit that keyboard.

Mostly Cs

You’re a Pantser! Those trousers are off and have been tossed into the wind! The breeze through your leg hairs are freeing and magical! “Let’s see where the wind takes me today!” you yell.

But really, please, keep your pants on, at least for us. In this moment.

Pantsing is the word used to describe someone who has no rules. They may just have a vague idea. Or better yet, nothing in mind. They sit down, stare at a blank screen and write. No destination. No plot points to hit on the map. Just a starting point and a desire to get somewhere. Spontaneous creativity is their vehicle of choice, and nothing will hold them back!

Mostly Ds

You’re a Snowflake! No, not the millennial edition. This is a process that is more “artsy” and personal. It a way of brainstorming and outlining when you have an idea. A concept. A thought of a story. Something you want to write but aren’t sure how. You don’t know yet what’s going to happen or how it should happen. Characters? Haven’t gotten that far. Story arc? Is there going to be one? Because there isn’t right now.

It kind of sounds and feels like being a pantser, except that, you aren’t actually writing yet. If you’re a snowflake, you’re more of Olaf’s magical permafrost kind. You aren’t going to melt or fade overtime. In fact, you’re going to grow stronger and bigger. Your little arms are going to grow and split and branch, the more you let your story cultivate.

This type of outlining often starts with a vague idea or character or emotion you want to evoke. As you let the story sit, slowly, different pieces start to grow from your central core. The more you let it sit and think about it, the more snowflake arms you get. Eventually, when you’ve finished, you have a beautiful and unique story to write. This method takes time, though, and it’s not for everyone or even every story, but it’s a valid way to outline.

What did you get? Tell us in the comments below or tag @the_writer_community in your stories on Instagram!

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