Do You Outline? Should You Outline?
Or not to outline,
That is the question!
Why can't we have both? Seriously though, there are advantages to both styles, and I'm going to attempt to address them here today. Besides, we all use parts of both styles whether we want to admit it or not, it's a spectrum, not black and white kinda thing.
An outline can be a fantastic tool to help write your book. Holding your intricate details within ready reach, it offers a definitive grid work for your story to follow. I find them especially helpful when working on a longer project, as they can help you keep your character on the path you want them to take. I don't know about you but my characters can be stubborn sometimes, if I don't work hard to keep them on their path they're liable to wreak chaos across my world.
But there is nothing like free writing either. All kinds of crazy things can happen when you're improvising more than you plan. And in truth, some of my favorite scenes that I've written have been free wheeled.
I've found that I work best with a bit of both. A grid work to help keep my stubborn characters in line, but letting the scene build organically.
For shorter works I don't bother with an outline. I'm talking less than ten pages. It's not that it can't be helpful, I just find no need for one on such a short project. The fresh fertilizer that is my mind is stifled by a rigid framework. Makes it impossible to really write the story. For these short works I find it much easier to just write, and let the story take me where it will.
My novella length books are where I start to use an outline. It's very rough, offering nothing more than a crudely drawn road map for my characters to follow. Mostly it's just a path for me to beat my characters back onto. This is where the spectrum comes in. Even though I've planned where my characters are going to travel, I didn't really plan the journey. I leave my characters enough freedom to roam, but not enough to stray. I left myself the room to play around with the characters, to take them on journeys of pain and growth. So while I have a plan, that's all I have before I start to write.
A novel is a different beast. The details involved in the process are much more in depth. Instead of being a roughly drawn scrawl, it becomes a detailed road map with notes for side trips. The details and dialogue have not been established, but the grid work I use is much tighter and richer with details. My characters are attached to the path when I write this way. Their stubbornness makes for a twisting and winding road, though. No matter how hard I try to hold my characters to my grid work, they always find a way to slip free for a little fun.
Whether or not you use an outline doesn't matter. As long as your story is cohesive, and your readers can understand what you wrote, that's all that really matters in the end.
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