Big Picture #amwriting #amediting

thisRemember when you had to write papers for school and the teacher told you to do an outline because it would help you organize your thoughts?

Did you ever have to write the paper and first and THEN outline it?

I did that a lot. Even now, I often have trouble knowing what my thoughts are until I think them, so how can I organize them when I haven’t thought them yet, yes?

HOWEVER (or, as folks put it now, That said), I found that outlining did help me organize my thoughts, and still do, and here’s why.

If I have a point on my mind, sometimes I belabor it by stating it then repeating it. Then repeating it. Then restating it. All that does is weaken the point by diluting it and turning it into white noise.

Outlining what I’ve already written shows me where I’ve done that; then I can put those bits together and make the statement so strong and so well-placed that it’s effective and memorable when stated once.

In an essay or a short story, it’s easy to print out the piece and make lines in different colors of marking pens in the margins, with each color denoting a particular point. In a novel, that can get cumbersome.

As always, Johanna Harness has a brilliant solution to outlining a draft of a novel (or non-fiction book, for that matter) in order to organize it.

Do you never want to repeat a point? Sure you do, sometimes. But you want to make sure that any time you state something important, it has an impact. Every time you state something important, it needs to be the inevitable and satisfying culmination of a wind-up that is best released by precisely that point. You don’t want your point to turn into a Chinese Water Torture.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Irritate a character by having someone repeat a point over and over and over and….



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Big Picture #amwriting #amediting

  1. dan antion

    March 28, 2016 at 9:11am

    The “outline after you write” reminds me of the “as built” drawings I wish I actually created for some construction projects.

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  2. Nate Wilson

    March 28, 2016 at 1:00pm

    You’re right. When a writer repeats the same point or detail over and over, it is a form of torture worthy of regulation by international law. Repeating something once is fine–it helps the detail stick. But each subsequent drip makes me wince and want to pull away. And that’s not what you want your readers doing. Probably.

    That said, however, I’ll also be outlining after writing, but not for the same reason. I want to ensure the flow of plot and my characters’ motivations make sense in the grand scheme of things. (I have my doubts.)

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      Marian Allen

      March 28, 2016 at 1:05pm

      Sounds like a good reason, Nate. I always think I’m writing carefully but, if I don’t do the outline-after-writing thing and then I take my “finished” story to my critique group and read it aloud, I’m all kindsa embarrassed.

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  3. Jane

    March 28, 2016 at 1:43pm

    I like the outlining possibilities of yWriter 5. It’s built to show you your progress in MANY different ways.

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      • Jane

        March 29, 2016 at 9:22am

        Just get it and start writing.
        Nice feature: You can go back and add in anything you want to track, name scenes, move them around, place your special notes exactly where you need to see them.

        I really need to send this guy fifty bucks or so as tribute to his ability to give a writer what she needs!
        Yeah, just as soon as I get that fifty bucks together, I’ll be right on that.

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          Marian Allen

          March 29, 2016 at 2:57pm

          That just seems so complicated and labor-intensive! Next time we get together, you’ll have to show me how you do.

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  4. Joey

    March 28, 2016 at 4:02pm

    Outlining is the worst. Ugh. Organization of novel is worst. Ugh. #amwriting #thestruggleisreal

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  5. A.C.Flory

    March 29, 2016 at 2:28am

    Gah…you’ve just reminded me of why I grew up hating to outline. I still refuse to do it, although once things get complicated enough, I do, um, write a lot of reminders to myself…

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