Thursday, September 15, 2011

Outlines Quelch Creativity

Before anyone starts pounding down my door, carrying pitchforks and lit torches, let me explain. We all know there are two camps to the outline debate: those that outline and those that go with the flow. I've tried both ways, and from my experience, my BEST ideas come while I'm writing my story, not while I'm creating organized index cards or a timeline in Excel before even setting pen to paper.

I remember reading writers' blogs when I was just starting out and they'd say things like "But my characters took me in another direction" or "My characters had other ideas for the plot." I'd be like "Huh? Since when can figments of our imagination take control of the reins and tell us what to do? Someone call The Twilight Zone!" But then it happened to me. Over and over and over. I kept making outlines and never following them. Through character dialogue, I'd completely take a one eighty and then it would avalanche, taking my pre-planned strings down with it, and creating new ones. So you know what? I said forget it. Outlining is wasted effort.

The problem with strict outlines, is writers don't allow themselves creative wiggle room. It's impossible to know all the P's and Q's of a story up front unless you've got your muse under lock and key. Ideas can be inspired from random thoughts in the shower to something you see on TV to your commute to work. They can come from anywhere, and you need the flexibility to take advantage of them.

Obviously, I don't recommend flying by the seat of your pants for the entire length of the novel. That'll just give you a disorganized mess. You have to know a general idea of the theme, plot, main conflict, and resolution. But all the tiny twists in between can be filled in as you go. Let your characters tell you what they want to do. They will, you know! They're very particular about their lives. (Although, to be completely honest with myself, it's my moods that affect change in dialogue. Tee hee. And I can be quite moody, thus the reason outlines don't work so well for me.)

How do you go about outlining? Strict? Loose? None at all? If you use a strict outline, what happens if you think of something better than what you'd planned? Do you stick with the outline or embrace the change? And do your moods change your story as you write like mine do?


  1. I don't find pantsing and planning to be absolutes, as much as I wish they were, for me anyway. Too much pantsing and my plot meanders and my pacing suffers. Too much planning and it feels dry and lifeless. I'm still looking for the sweet spot.

  2. I think you mean to say "Strict Outlines Quelch My Creativity" :) because I simply can't write a book these days without an outline. It's very loose and more like a detailed synopsis than anything else, but it's still planning. This allows me the creativity you speak about in your post. I have to follow things where they take me. Scales is a good example as I've been surprised by the turns it has taken. :)