To Outline or NOT to Outline? FLEXIBILITY’s the key

How much liberty do you afford yourself as a writer where outlines are concerned?

To outline or not to outline??? To what degree, and HOW, should one organize one’s thoughts and one’s plans for a piece of fiction, especially a piece as long as a novel, before diving in and starting to write?
That’s a big question, and everyone who writes successfully, I think, does things differently. A number of people use outlines, and that’s great: if you can be flexible. FLEXIBILITY is the biggest issue where fiction and outlines are concerned. You must always have wriggle room for your characters to develop, to speak to you, and to take charge and forge their own paths. My characters, at least, have often led me to places I never expected, and if I had stuck to a previously developed outline and forced them to act in ways that turned out to be contrary to their natures, well, my novels just wouldn’t make such sense at all. They wouldn’t be good, in any sense.

I don’t develop outlines because, personally, I’m the kind of writer who would just deviate from them halfway through and find them worthless, and then grow frustrated that I spent so much time developing the outline in the first place. But that’s just me. A LOT of writers I know are able to work flexibly with outlines, and they swear by them. Great!!! I imagine these writers have a MUCH better idea of who their characters are before they begin writing than I do. That would give them a clear idea of how their characters would respond to a given situation at the outline stage, and allow for an outline that more or less matches the final product.

I consider discovery the best part of the writing experience, and love the way my characters reveal themselves to me as I go. This does mean I do extensive additions, deletions, and changes after the first draft, but I’m okay with that. That’s my system and it works for me. I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of author, which I find ironic because I am a total control freak, organized and on top of everything in the rest of the life (well, more or less.)
So, I’m VERY curious as to what other writers think as to this topic. Do you use outlines? Why or not why? If you’re a reader, not a writer, what do you think about the situation? Do you think writing from an outline would affect the final project, one way or another? How would you write if you took up a novel? Please do comment. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

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8 responses to “To Outline or NOT to Outline? FLEXIBILITY’s the key

  1. I’m obsessed with outlining. I almost can’t write a story without one ( it can be problematic). And I agree with you, the key is flexibility; giving yourself freedom to fill in blank spaces while you write so your story doesn’t sound stilted and bland. Great post!

  2. I shudder at the idea of outlining, but I’ve started to realize that it might be necessary after all. This the second time now that I’ve gotten halfway through a story, then realized I need to rewrite it. I think I’m going to give outlining a shot for my next story. I’m not sure how detailed I’ll get, but I figure I should at least try it once πŸ™‚

    • I tried it once for NaNoWriMo. I found it really sped up how fast I was writing. I’m still a pantser at heart, though! πŸ™‚ sounds like you are too. and that’s fine! I love the surprises that come up writing as a pantser

  3. I’ve written many short stories, usually with a thousand word limit.
    I can get the body of the idea down after thinking about it for three days. Then I leave it and think about it some more and can find the extra ingredient that makes the story come alive. Editing it twice, I can finish it in six days.
    Last year I was following a blog and wrote short stories almost every week.
    In May, I took one of those short story prompts and decided to write a longer piece. No sooner had I started then I began to have unusual interruptions that prevented me from working on the piece.
    But I never stopped thinking about it.
    I figured out the story and a lot about the characters, making only short notes on paper to myself.
    About three weeks ago, I typed out the whole story in a blob.
    It was a horrible mess.
    But after thinking about it for so long, I knew what the story was. Then came more interruptions.
    Then came two days of no interruptions!
    I spent these two days dividing the mess into chapters.
    Last night in bed I got some more ideas, and repeated them until I had them memorized, then added them into the right chapters today.
    So today, I started at the beginning, editing.
    The story is beginning to take shape.
    Sorry to be so wordy, but I’m basically a pantser. Outlining has eluded me.
    But finally I’m seeing how to do it.
    I can only learn by doing. Over and over.
    Great blog. Thanks for the prompt, and the opportunity to tell my story. πŸ™‚

  4. Pingback: Veering From My Outline | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  5. Pingback: How Does An Author Adjust His or Her Approach from Novel to Novel? | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  6. Pingback: AUTHORS: Trouble with a draft? When is it time to rethink your approach to a novel? | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

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