To Outline or Not to Outline, That is the Question
This is a guest post by Idrees Patel. If you want to write for Daily Writing Tips check the guidelines here.
Creative writers are divided into two camps: those who outline and those who don’t: the ones who write straight on and on. Is it wrong to outline? Which method brings the best results?
From the beginning of writing, some people like to write an outline before starting writing. However, there are also many which hate to do so. And then there are some who mix the two methods to create their own method.
But which is the best?
There is no right answer for everyone. You must find your own right answer. Of course, this is the right answer… but an elaboration for it isn’t quite a bad idea.
So here’s the proper answer: outlining works for some people. And it doesn’t for others. The what and why of outlining is a must to know, so therefore, here is…
The What of Outlining
To outline is to draw something of a big picture of your work (it may be anything, a novel, a story, a blog post, a sales letter etc) before starting to write the content. Outlining means to write all the ideas spinning in your mind down to paper and arrange them in a logical fashion to make the actual writing easier.
Still confused? Here is the Wikipedia definition:
An outline is a list of the main features of a given topic, often used as a rough draft or summary of the content of a document. A hierarchical outline is a list arranged to show hierarchical relationships. Writers of fiction and creative nonfiction, such as Jon Franklin, may use outlines to establish plot sequence, character development and dramatic flow of a story, sometimes in conjunction with freewriting.
Here is what a typical outline may look like:
The abuses of television:
- How children stay late at night and don’t do their school homework
- How they hamper their eyesight by watching too much TV
- How bad programmes have a dangerous effect on teenagers
- How they dedicate too much time to it instead of taking part in useful pursuits
And so on. The general opinion is that by doing outlining the writing process will become easier. Why? Because we now have a roadmap which we can follow. Or not…
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.
The Disadvantages of Outlining
1. Spoils the mystery and the fun. Okay, sometimes you may not want mystery and you may not want any fun. In that case, you should ignore this point. But for fiction writers, some don’t want to outline because they feel they cannot use their creativity and it takes away all the fun if you just fill it up. To solve this problem, Randy Ingermanson revealed a new method – the Snowflake method. It does let you outline, but doesn’t let it spoil your story.
2. May not be as good as you first thought. If you get a complete different idea for your story later, your outline is pretty much useless work. Therefore, you should try to get all the best ideas from your brain and commit them down to paper to avoid this problem.
3. Just doesn’t seem to agree with your writing style. Some people find it hard to write from an outline. They want their writing to be creative: as creative as possible. I’m one of those writers, although I sometimes write few of my ideas so that I don’t forget it. Lengthy outlining doesn’t work for some, although it does for others. It’s useless to find a one-size-fit-all outlining method, simply because there’s no such thing.
Conclusion: Undecided, no right answer for everyone
It all comes back to square zero. There are ton of different writing methods and processes, even different outlining methods. But don’t just try to use one because it happens to be popular or famous. It may not work for you, and cost you a whole load of precious time.
Only use the method which your brain seems to like. My writing method is a bit of a mix: not an outline and not a SOTP. Maybe yours is too; or maybe you like outlining in its most literal sense. Or maybe you hate it and just like to write freely. Take your pick and have fun. No reason to write if you don’t even like your writing method.
Outlining works for some people. Some famous authors can’t write without a lengthy synopsis. If you’re an outliner, you’re in good company. And of course outlining doesn’t work for some people. If you’re a SOTP, you too are in good company of famous authors. Finally, if you choose to be creative and mix it up a little, you’ll find plenty more authors with your method. Just write with which you’re most comfortable.
So that’s it. After having learned the advantages and disadvantages of outlining, it’s your choice whether you choose to use it or not. It doesn’t really matter as long as you enjoy writing. Write and love it.
About the Author: Idrees Patel is a 13 year old blogging about creative writing tips at WritersTreasure.com. Check out his free series, Creative Writing 101: a beginner’s guide to creative writing.
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