Thursday, May 24, 2007

To Outline or Not to Outline

This is a question that seems to come up all the time at panels and in general writing discussions. There are people on both sides of the camp and never a lot of agreement as to what to do.

To me though, Writing, like art, is one of those things were you can take lessons, read books, practice techniques, but in the end, you have to find the way to do it that feels the most comfortable to YOU. No one formula will work for everyone, no matter how much you try to force it. And sadly a lot of the classes out there try to fit the square peg into a round hole, even though it's not necessary.

Asking whether you should outline or not is like asking if you should write in the mornings or in the afternoons. Do whichever one feels right for you. If you have no idea, try each of them out and see which one gives you the best results.

If you're the type of person who likes to have a road map before beginning on a journey, outline. If you are more of a drive by the seat of your pants type of person, no outline.

Now for me, as with a lot of things having to do with writing, it all depends on the project! I've written stories and books with and without outlines. To me outlining is a tool. So if I need it I use it, if I don't I don't.

In the Service of Samurai was done without an outline. Vassal of El has certain scenes I knew I wanted, but pretty much was also done outline free. Cross-eyed Dragon Troubles, however, which came partially from the wellspring that is my hubby, was almost totally mapped out in outline form before I ever started. Willing Sacrifice, no outline - though in a way, since it was one sided when first written, then Dal's side added in afterward, there might be some argument there. Jewel of the Gods, my current Work-in-progress, started out outline free, but I found myself getting mired in details and loosing my way, so out came the paper and so far a partial outline has been jotted down so I know what I need to do and explain where so I can keep on course.

Outlines can also be useful when you're stuck. You can get so involved in trying to get that right feeling, or description, or turn of phrase that you can't think clearly about what needs to come next. Best thing to do then is to take a step back and outline. Because it is brief and you don't have to worry about grammar, syntax, etc, it's just the bare bones after all, your brain is then free to focus and think about only the plot instead!

So if you want a map, outline right off the bat. If you feel you have it all upstairs or just want to meander through it, go for it! The important part is to be productive and write! So do whatever works for you. Just don't forget if things go a little off kilter or slow, you can always use an outline as something to get your juices flowing in the right direction again.

Gloria Oliver
Unveiling the Fantastic

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