Do you write from an outline or Seat-of-the-Pants?

This is a popular question within several author interviews I have read, or answered. I expect a pants answer, as my bias is creative types need freedom to flex the mind; and yet, I am surprised by how many writers answer outline.

stack of booksHoping to find a magical solution, I have developed a bad habit of scanning an interview to review the answer to this question. The responses range from outline only to seat-of-the-pants only, with a significant number of blends somewhere in between.

A career of technical/operations jobs made me believe any problem could be solved with a procedure and good training. Oops, not true. The full spectrum from outline to pants has problems regardless of the writer’s choice.

Once Upon A Time being writtenTotal outliners tend to rewrite the outline frequently – similar to writing the book several times. Total pantsers tend to spend a lot of time researching previous chapters for forgotten details.

An example of a total pantser came by way of an introduction for a ten-book author presented by her friend “Janice writes the story in her head while she is busy being a working mom, and after dinner types it into the computer.” (I am so jealous). This is perhaps the purest example of a pants writer.

Provided here is a process that might be helpful to some. Feel free to borrow, steal, improve, or use any portion that makes writing easier. I don’t tout this process as the ultimate solution; it’s a work-in-progress.

First, draft the chapter titles with a five to seven word description

  1. The Package – Oscar transports baby
  2. Family and Duty – introduction of families
  3. Extended Family – cross family relationships
  4. Birthday Surprise – princess abduction attempt

These are not cast in stone, and serve as a flexible guide.

Next step identifies the key points for the chapters.

Oscar transports baby

  • Winter setting
  • Encounter with wolf
  • Goat dies, need to find milk source
  • Secret entrance to castle
  • Uses kitchen entrance
  • He cannot get caught

Work three to five chapters at a time. If the story takes an interesting “off script” turn, only a few chapters will require changes to support the new story.

Microsoft OneNote (also available for Mac) is an easy and powerful program for keeping track of the flexible chapter list, chapter key points, and notes to be incorporated after completing the draft.

This process works well as a flexible guide. The characters and circumstances can dictate the direction of the story without a major overhaul to a complex outline. And, plot details are in the notes, or much easier to find.

To create a visual representation of the story, a handy program is Scapple. From their website – Scapple is an easy-to-use tool for getting ideas down as quickly as possible and making connections between them. (More on this in an upcoming blog)

If you have a preferred method, or helpful writing tips, please leave a link in the comments for other writers to investigate.

Enjoy your writing adventure!



BAheadshotAndean White
– Author of Heroic Fantasy
Twitter: @AndeanWhite

As a young boy at family gatherings, I recall listening to the men after a meal. The opinions around the subjects of politics, car brands, hippies, and rock n roll filled the room with energy like aromatic smoke from a pipe. But, when the story telling began everyone found a seat or patch of floor. We sat for hours absorbing the stories, fact or fiction, that shaped who we became and it strengthened our imaginations. Fifty years later I know that a world without imagination would be pretty boring.

Winter’s Thief is the first of a four book series. Soft cover books available at your favorite Internet bookstore, or at the website The e-book version is available at

Author: Andean White

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