My Writing Process - Outlining vs. Discovery Writing

Welcome to the second in the "My Writing Process" series! The first post was about brainstorming. That's simply getting your ideas together. Today, I'll share with you my thoughts on actually planing out a novel and the story. 


There tend to be two categories writers place themselves into for this. There's the outliners and the "pantsers." (AKA- discovery writing.) Either you plan your novel out, or you just wing it.

The reality is, most writers are a mix of both. I know I am. It also depends on the project I'm working on. Some books I feel like I need to know exactly what happens when. Others, I let myself figure it out along the way. Although, I tend to go for more outlining. For the project I'm working on at the moment, I'm winging it a bit more than usual. Which is slightly scary. Some elements of this book I knew I had to know exactly what happened. The rest, I'm only planning one step ahead of where I am currently in my writing process. I have the first few chapters plotted out, but the everything else I have no idea!


When I outline my novel, there are a few different methods I've tried. 

The 9 Block Method

I found this one through the YouTuber KatyTastic. (One of her vidoes is below) You divide your book into three acts, each with three sections, and three chapters in each section. This would create roughly 27 chapters. (It sounds confusing, I know. But it isn't!) All of these roughly are just about setting up, creating conflict, and resolution. Beginning, middle, and end. Act one is setting up the story, act two is building up the conflict, act three is the climax/resolution. Then each act has a bit of a "mini" story inside of it with set up, conflict, and resolution.

Katy explains it far better than I do, and when I first started to outline this way, I had to refer back to her videos several times. (You can watch one of them here!) Now that I've gotten the hang of it, it's easy. It's a fairly commercial method of putting together a story and I like to use it when I'm getting stuck on plot. (I'm TERRIBLE at plot. Give me fun characters and witty banter all day. When I have to actually decide the things that happen to them and how it all fits together, it's the struggle bus for me.) It helps me to see how I can keep the story moving as well as eliminate things which don't add anything to the story.

The Snowflake Method

This one is about starting small, then getting bigger and bigger. You first start with a simple, short sentence, summarizing your novel. Then, you write a paragraph. Then three paragraphs (particularly if you're doing a 3 act structure.) Each paragraph having roughly five sentences each. 

Once that's done, you move onto creating something similar for each of your main characters. 

You can probably see where this is going. You keep going until it gets bigger and bigger then you're ready to write your novel. I'd continue, but you can follow this link to learn more. This method is good for people who like to take notes and write things out, vs. having a bullet point outline. I like to use this when I'm focusing more on my characters vs. the plot points.

Classic Story Structures

There's also several structures for classic story lines. Rags to riches, quests, the hero's journey, voyage and return, rebirth, and overcoming the monster. If you look at different genres and compare their story lines carefully, you'll see some basic plot structures and it's a good way to get yourself going. Figure out where the main "beats" of your story need to be, then go from there. You can see many of these on my Pinterest board

The Pros of Outlining

You have an idea of where your story is going, and it helpful if you find yourself stuck or from keeping your book from taking it's own course. I especially find it useful during the revision phase because then you can weed out what is and isn't needed in your book. But we'll talk about revisions in a later post.

The Cons of Outlining

Some people get married to their outline and don't let their story grow and breathe. Personally, I found this to be the fatal flaw in the ending of the TV show How I Met Your Mother. The creators had a specific ending in mind when they first plotted out the TV show. But as the show grew and changed, the ending did not. So, when we got to the finale, it was a disaster. Years later, I still become irrationally angry if I think about it too much, because everything else was so well done!

Others don't like to outline because they feel like it constricts them and they can't be as creative as they'd want. 

I always say, feel free to outline as much as you want; just be sure you're willing to be flexible. 

Discovery Writing

There's not a whole lot to say about this method, other than it's the "figure it out as you go" philosophy. You start writing and see where it takes you. This lends itself to being more organic. It's easy to say that this is more "creative," which I don't agree with. There's definitely creativity in outlining as well. 

The Pros of Discovery Writing

No bounds! No limitations! Do what you want! Discovery writing is awesome for people who don't like structure. If a random plot twist comes to you, you don't have to worry about re-doing that outline you worked on for hours and hours. You just go with it. Sometimes the surprises can be the best parts of your book.

The Cons of Discovery Writing

You may not know where your book is going. For me, this is the scary part because it's easy to get stuck. This is the beauty of planning. If you don't know what to write, you can just take a look at your outline and see what's coming next. 

It's easy for your book to lose track of where it's going. You may find yourself with scenes you don't know what to do with, characters who don't have a purpose, and when you get to the end you have no idea how to tie it all together. 


Overall, a majority of writers are a mix of the two methods, or it will vary with each project. I had one book where I had it heavily outlined and I relied on it for every step of the way! For projects like the one I'm currently working on, I have some details set and a few moments I want to be in the book, but beyond that I'm just seeing where the characters and the story takes me!

Brandon Sanderson, a popular epic fantasy writer, says he very much relies on his outlines. But then I've heard of authors such as Agatha Christie who claimed she didn't know who the murderer was until she reached the end of the book!

Basically - you do you.