I've heard it said that the best authors in history always outlined their stories
and the results showed in the finished product. What are you thoughts on Outlining?
If it's something you practice, could you shed some light on how to go about preparing
an outline for my story?
Outline Novice in Ottawa
Dear Outline Novice,
To outline or not to outline, and how extensively to outline… This is
a debate that has been raging as long as anyone can remember.
Some authors work from a very detailed outline. They like the certainty of
creating detailed characterization, working out plot problems and defining story
turning points all up front. Then they're free to relax and write the book.
Other authors hate outlines. They find it stifles their creativity and drains
all the energy out of the story. They can't get excited about writing a book where
they already know everything that will happen. They love to fly into the mist.
And in extreme cases, they write scenes all out of sequence and somehow link them
together at the end.
Still others find they need a light outline, just the major plot and character
points to keep them on the right track. But they also need the characters to be
walking and talking on the page before they discover the what the story is all
All three of these approaches are perfectly correct. Outlining is a personal
decision, and it depends largely on the innate style of the writer. I think most
people fall into the third camp, those that need some kind of an outline, but
for whom many things will change during the course of the writing.
Personally, I need to know who my characters are up front, and I need to know
the general set up of the story situation. However, I discover most of the important
story elements during the writing. In scene, my characters act and react in ways
that surprise me. Or a secondary character will show up unexpectedly and take
the story off in a new direction.
I often don't know my black moment or the resolution until about the three-quarter
mark, and this can make synopsis writing very tricky. I swear, someday I'm going
to send my editor three chapters and a little note that says, "Trust me.
It'll turn into a story somehow."
I have read marvelous stories by authors who outline, and I have read marvelous
stories by authors who do not. If you're unsure, try doing it each way and decide
which suits you the best. The good news on this one is there's no wrong answer.
No matter which way you choose, or if you come up with your own unique hybrid,
rest assured, you are doing it "right". My own guess is that people
who outline tend to be analytical, and people who don't outline have story structure
burned into their subconscious, so it comes out on its own.
Pick the one you like. And most of all, enjoy the writing process. In the end,
that's what will shine through on your finished product.