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Outlining or Contour In Writing

3 min read

Previously on Beard Between the Lines, we talked about three steps to plan your content. I guess it’s pretty clear that I’m a writer who likes outlining everything. And, in fact, some people ask me all the time what I think about outlining, for what I wrote about it many times before.

The previous post brought that discussion again. So here’s how I see it.

Writing is art. When you sit in front of an easel with a canvas on it, you usually don’t go painting immediately. First, you feel the texture on the surface of the canvas. You breathe in. You hold a piece of charcoal in your hands. You slowly let inspiration fill your lungs and turn it into a rush of blood in your fingers as they grip that piece of charcoal more firmly and secure, and you’re back to the canvas.

Soft traces begin. Nothing too hard. Light strokes, just a contour. That’s the French word for “outlining”. It usually serves as a guide. But as soon as you start it, you create shapes, mass, volume, depth, silhouettes. The contour of your drawing is the foundation of your final work but. Some artists like leaving it as is. Some outlines and sketches are just beautiful the way they are. But in writing, you want to add light, shadows, colors, scents…

So you start painting it. And there are more painting techniques than outlining ones. There’s a lot of ways to create a palette of colors. There’s a lot of different brushes to use and other painting tools you never heard of. The work after you’ve created your simple contours are still enormous, and the slight perception of nuance, while you’re painting, can make you ignore some parts of your outline. This is more usual than you think. Yet you know where your brushes should go if you lose yourself in the trip of a coloring layer process.

When someone tells me that outlining takes away the joy of creativity, or that it kills it. I say that they’re doing it wrong. Although I know there’s no right or wrong in art. But that’s how I feel.

Because outlining is the contour of a painting, is just as much a creative process as it is writing the final draft. In my opinion. Think of drafting an outline as sketching the first lines of your drawing, the lines that guide your painting, the silhouettes that form the foundation of a story. Then think of your writing process as the painting, the colors, the final layer, the brush strokes. Both stages of writing are important and hard.

You sure can fly by the seat of your pants. Many painters start with brush strokes right away. But have you ever thought that the opposite of that wearing pants, in writing, is plotting? Does it mean I want my groins to catch some air while I write? No, but isn’t it funny that wearing pants (which sometimes can be really uncomfortable, to be honest) means not planning?

My opinion is this: outlining is a hard process and it takes a huge amount of creativity to do because you’re not only creating a map and giving direction to your stories and writings but it feels like the first draft.

Painting or filling your outline with the strokes of a story, emotions, scenes, character arcs, scents, words, and sentences that make sense, is just as hard, but it gets easier when you know where you’re going when you know the first lines are there under the paint to help you.

Now for the comments…

How do you feel about outlining? And how many drafts you think a book should have before the final work is done? (asking for a friend)

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