You should never outline. It stifles the creative process and your story will seem manufactured and dry.
You have to outline. If you don’t know where you’re going you’ll find yourself wandering aimlessly.
First, I would like to clearly define what I mean by outlining a story. An outline is not character development, back-story, or setting and world-building. Every writer I’ve ever met does some amount of pre-writing involving most of the aforementioned aspects before they pen the actual story. When I say outline, I mean plotting your novel, laying out all the events and information before you actually write the story.
Some authors say they never outline, they simply come up with some characters and a situation and then allow the creative process to take over and lead them where it may. Others say they outline heavily and follow it exactly, and still others are in-between, maybe coming up with a beginning, middle, and end, but don’t really know how they’re going to get there.
Many authors often will impose their chosen process on other writers as a rule, certain that their way is the right way, and novice writers are always searching for the rule that will magically transform their writing from straw to gold.
I have wondered why some writers outline and others don’t. Some of my favorite authors outline. Many of them do not. Some of them are in-between, perhaps loosely outlining but allowing inspiration to take the story where it will.
This is something where I don’t feel there is clear answer, nor are their necessarily two sides to the coin, the reason largely being because outlining is part of a writer’s process, and each writer’s process is unique. Writer DNA. The reason one writer thinks their process is right is because it is right for them.
I am haphazard by nature, and organization is not one of my strong points, (much to my adoring husband’s disappointment.) I do most things by feel. I like to have a plan, but I do not like to be bound by plans. I write loose outlines, more like a beginning, middle, and end, so I feel like I have some kind of direction. I feel no obligation to follow its course. If another road seems more appealing, I take it. My stories usually turn out completely different (and I think much better,) than my outlines.
I like to be surprised and excited by my stories, and I have found that if I feel that way while writing them, then people generally feels the same while reading them.
No one can tell you what method is best for you. I think it’s a combination of your personality, thought process, and what you’re writing. You might learn by experimentation. Some people are stimulated by disarray, while others feed off of order. If my husband were to ever write a novel, (bless him) he wouldn’t dream of writing a word without everything planned and plotted on a spread-sheet!
For some, outlines are their saving grace, for others they’re the devil, but as Stephen King said “Sooner or later, every story comes out somewhere.”*
I’m out. Watching LOST with my man of order.
Next up on Contradictions: Critique Groups
*Thanks Mallard for pushing me over the edge on reading Stephen King’s ON WRITING. I’ve never read Stephen King, only because I’m not into thrillers or horror, but his memoir on writing is fantastic!