Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Outline vs Free Writing

Okay, so here's one of those "writerly" details that always trips me up when I think about starting a new novel or screenplay.

Should I or should I not write an outline?

If you haven't picked up on it, I'm the queen of haggling over decision making. But the outline, the whole process of laying out a detailed sketch of my novel from start to finish is just one that I can't help but feel a bit of trepidation at moments. Of course no one would dispute the benefits of having a "tweaking" or exorcising the demons process for my ideas and plot points.  But there's always that wild rebel artist voice in my head crying out for freedom and reckless literary expression, begging me to let-flow-and-let-go and then just see what happens.

Yeah, I sometimes worry about that voice too.

Now from experience I have in fact tried both ways, and honestly found things I liked and disliked about both methods of writing styles.  And so this is why I need your help.  Because as I sit here debating which brilliant story idea I want to take on as my next novel or screenplay project, while desperately resisting the urge to face plant into my desk, I wanted to pose a couple of questions to all my writer and screenwriter peers out there.

Do you prefer the outline method or are you the free writing let-go-and-let-flow writer? And based on your experience what have you found to be the perks of your method of writing?

I really really would love to hear all your feedback and personal takes on this particular matter, whether you're a writer or screenwriter, any and all comments are welcome.

Happy Writing & Happy Reading!


  1. he he I hate outlining, only because my characters are all spoiled brats and go and do what they think it's right for the story. After all, it's their story, right? So I have decided to compromise with most of them. I outline the first ten chapters, then write a small paragraph about where the story should end. I call this the plotter-pantser agreement :D So far, it's helped with Airbrushed and outlining Talking to Paintings which is going to be my NaNo story.

  2. Go with the flow I say although even then it's nice to know where you intend to stop. I found that planning my ending gave me direction (who's there, where they are and why) then I just went back to the beginning, confident I knew where I was going, and whenever I ventured off into unchartered territory on sub-plots, character meanderings or whatever, I could always see my way back...

    I've only written one book though, so what do I know?

  3. I have just one book under my belt, but for that one (and the sequel I'm currently writing) I was (am) a total 'panster'. The only things I kept track of were brief descriptions of each named character and a calendar of events, both of which were jotted down in a separate file as the story unfolded. I can't imagine sitting down to plot out the exact details of my story, because I don't always know exactly what my main character is going to do in a given situation. I have a rough idea where I'd like the story to go, but part of what makes writing fun for me is letting the characters take me along on their journey. Sometimes this means I'll be cutting a lot of cruft out later--something that I didn't do enough of in my first book--but I'm (hopefully) learning from my mistakes. I'm determined to show, not tell, and avoid writing scenes that don't drive the story, among other things. We'll see what happens!

    Do you think that the point of view of a story plays a part in the decision to or not to outline? My novels are written from the first person viewpoint, so there is perhaps less management involved. If I had a book with several equally important characters written in the third person, perhaps I'd be out of my depth without some sort of outline to keep me on track.

    Love the discussion! Thanks, Blaire!

  4. For me, it depends on the story. For a super-plot-driven idea, outline, then deviate.
    For an introspective character study,write it first, then organize it.
    Just my 2 cents! :D

  5. Plot it out. Always. It allows you to make the story much more rich and interesting and you don't have to worry so much about where your going. But also, allow your character room to breathe and space for the story to change. But really, if you have worked out everything properly beforehand, you won't need to do this.

  6. Personally, I freewrite and then once I've written a few chapters I go back and do an outline. If I'm still not sure what the ending is, I outline to where I can and then I write and let my characters figure the rest out. Good luck with everything!

  7. I'm not exactly an outliner, but I do 'milestone' my projects as I'm working on them. I find having a sequence of key events/discoveries/plot points jotted down helps keep the story moving at a decent pace, and also lets me keep a handle on word count.

  8. I'm just starting my first novel, but I'm a free writer. I've tried starting one with an outline, but just couldn't get it started.

    Also, I'm finding with this one the characters are talking to me way too much for me to do an outline. I just write what the characters are telling me... at least for this book... who knows about my second one.