Not that long ago I happened to come across a blog discussion where various writers were debating whether or not it was a good idea for novelists to use a story outline before getting started. As opposed to just letting the muse run wild and naked through the fields of imagination, landing who knows where.
Or something like that.
Anyway, those who prefer outlines, such as myself, think that writing a story is kind of like driving; it helps to have an idea where you’re going before getting on the road. It’s OK to take some detours. Take as many as you want. Hell, can even decide you don’t want to go there anymore, wherever ‘there’ is…or was. But the bottom line is that you’ve got a goal in sight, which can help propel you to the finish line. And it’s that finish line that has eluded many a novelist since time immemorial. But those who like to just let ‘er rip contend that it’s never the right thing to put a muzzle on creativity. If you’re afraid of the unknown, then stay away from fiction they say. After all, isn’t half the fun of writing a story the mystery of going along for the ride to a destination to be decided later?
I guess it can be, but I’ve found not having a story outline doesn’t work so hot for me for many of the reasons listed in one of the better posts I’ve seen on the subject entitled To Outline or Not to Outline, That is the Question. Check it out:
The Advantages of Outlining
1. Not getting lost. This is clearly the biggest advantage. Some SOTP (seat of the pants writers) hate outlining. They write without having a roadmap and this is fun for some time. And then… the inevitable happens. They don’t know what to write anymore. In contrast, having an outline means that writers always know what to write.
2. Deciding whether your work is good or not. If you don’t know how your story is going to end or go on, then you don’t really know whether it is good or not. It would be painful, wouldn’t it, to discover big plot holes and flaws after having written 50,000 words. Whereas if you outline you know instantly what flaws there are, and you can correct them easily.
3. Straying off the outline if you get a better way. If you are writing and then suddenly get an inspiration and think that the outline was poorer, you are entirely free to stray off the outline. It’s just that, an outline. This way you can compare the two ways, and decide which is better. You couldn’t do this if you didn’t have an outline.
4. Writing with a sense of flow. You know how this will go on. After finishing this, you know you’ve got to do that. Then there are no messy unorganized chapters and scenes (or whatever you’re else you’re writing). You get a sense of flow, and your work will be finished faster.
It’s not that I don’t like to let my imagination run wild because I do. I’ve been doing that since childhood. But I also don’t like the idea of writing thousands of words, only to discover 12 chapters in that it’s all wrong and needs to be redone. I don’t write straitjacket outlines specifically because I need room to breathe, and I always am adjusting and changing, but so long as I have at least a few breadrumbs along the road is more assurance that the project will actually get finished, will be worthwhile, and won’t take the rest of my life.
Works for me.
Crossposted at Keith A. Owens