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Friday, December 1, 2006

The Art of Outlining

I'd like to discuss one of the age-old questions that writers have come across -- to outline or not to outline? Outlining is an art and only those skilled enough to venture into it can write a clean, crisp summary of their work. It works for some and others not.

For me, I could never sit down and write an outline of my stories before I start them. Part of the attraction of writing is not knowing where the story is going. I like to let it write itself practically. I can't plan out my entire piece in my head before I start working on it because I don't know how it's going to end. I don't even know where it's going to go yet.

Plus, let's not forget the fact that stories can change when we least expect it. Outlines are not made to be written in stone. If that's the case, then why write one at all? If you don't stick to your outline, isn't it just a waste of time? Absolutely not, for some people.

I know people who can't write a story without some sort of framework to follow. They are more organized and need to plan out their stories before ever throwing their characters into the mix. And that's perfectly fine.

But for others, spontaneity in writing keeps them interested.

So what's the answer to this question? There is none. Outlining is good for some and not so good for others. However, before you decide if it's right for you, I urge you to try it both ways. If you normally outline something before you write it, try writing something off the top of your head and see how that works out. If you usually write by the seat of your pants, then try putting out an outline first on your next story. You just might be surprised at what happens next.

Now, let us know. Do you outline or not? :-)


  1. For me it depends largely upon the length of the project. My first novel, a murder mystery (that never got much past first draft) was outlined. I wrote biographies of the characters, the geography of the area (up to creating maps of these ficticious locals, and even cartooned story boards.

    Pieces running 25,000 to 30,000 words don't need that much, but there has to be a certain process of reducing idea to paper in a none prose form.

    Short stories are different (as are shorter sections of longer works). I "see" the story as a movie. I live it as a memory. I try to see it as a first time reader would and wonder, what's next. Then I try to satisfy that wonder.

  2. Outlining is difficult, to be sure. I don't like to outline beforehand, but I usually do afterwards. Some publishers ask for outlines with your submission, so after balking about it for awhile, I get down and dirty and eventually do one, but I don't like them.