Am I Out(of)line?

Do you plan your writing or do you just wing it and see what happens? For me, there are times where I can write without a plan, but most of the time I have some sort of plan for what, who and where the writing will go. This is where an outline is helpful. I know that at least some of you reading this are cringing at the word “Outline” because it brings up memories of Intro to English Composition class. No matter how much you may love to write, it will be very difficult to convince me that ANYONE loves Intro to English Composition. It’s just not a fun class, but it’s also not meant to be. It’s necessary so everyone, no only those of us who do love to write, will be able to write competently and correctly. But let’s just focus on outlining and when it could be necessary to have one.
Me personally, I like outlining. It’s gives me focus and keeps me motivated to stay with the story. I know that some people may feel that it shuts down their creativity or interferes with their writing process. Here are few benefits I have found to outlining a piece of work before you begin:

  1. Helps establish structure- Every story needs a structure in order to be cohesive and understandable. It is like building a house, you always want to follow the blueprint to make sure that the house doesn’t collapse. Once the structure is set, your creativity has room to spread its wings.
  2. Fewer rewrites later- You will find it easier to edit your piece once finished because you will not have (at least not as many) plot holes or places where the plot doesn’t flow correctly/ This will make the arduous job of editing much simpler in the long run.
  3. Can help with your creativity before you begin to write- Once you start thinking through your characters and storylines for each one to put the basics down on paper(screen) you may find yourself changing them a bit to suit the plot or each other better or you could completely change he character’s personality. It will be much less frustrating to find out a character needs to change in the outline than in say Chapter 28. 

One thing to remember about writing an outline, it can be changed too. An outline is not a set in stone piece of work. It’s a framework to start building upon to make the creative part easier. Using the house analogy again, there are many homes who get additions added on once they have been completed. There is nothing to say that you cannot add a character or event in your finished product just because it wasn’t in your original outline. You would just have to make adjustments to make sure that character fits into the story. Having an outline can help with this because you would have to read 300 pages of text only to find out that the new character doesn’t work. You can read over your outline instead and possibly save some time in editing.
Also, there is no correct way to outline a story in the real world. I know the standard setup is:

While this is a general way to outline and is used in high school and college classes, once you are writing on your own and doing things to help your story and creativity, you can do it how ever you want. You can use the standard format shown above, you could you storyboard, you could make a collage or you could use a simplified outline method (I prefer this).

What is comes down to is find the best way for you to get your thoughts organized before trying to tackle a huge writing project. It will release some of your tension, definitely help with the editing process and may even help you flesh out some of your story to create things you hadn’t thought of yet.

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