Do you prefer writing an outline or letting the story tell itself?

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Thread: Do you prefer writing an outline or letting the story tell itself?

  1. #1

    Do you prefer writing an outline or letting the story tell itself?

    Perhaps the one thing that I've had the most dramatically different experience is when I've writing using written outlines opposed to letting the story tell itself.

    Story Tells Itself:

    One thing I noticed about this style of writing is that the story is far more surprising. I'll have a general idea of what will happen but as I don't restrict it, it shoots every direction. Thus how I went from wanting to do a fantasy trilogy to finishing book 4 and realizing I need at least two more books to finish it. Helping me understand GRRM.

    Written Outline:

    In this same fantasy series, I decided to do my fourth book with an outline. Not only a general outline but also chapter outlines.

    I noticed that I got a lot more done at a far faster pace. I also ended up having a far larger book. It was as if with the mental work of plottibg was done on a chapter before hand, it allowed me to spend that energy strictly on developing the scenes.

    One chapter had only five bullet points. I thought it would only take 10 pages. To my shock, it up being near 45 pages of work over a three day period!

    Which is your preferred method of writing? With an outline or letting the story tell itself?

  2. #2
    For my novels I like to make an outline so that I have a clearer path for the char's and story, as well as the direction for getting from one set piece to another. But for my shorts I tend to fly a little more off the seat of my pants with just enough of a mental outline to know where I'm going and how. I think of it like a gps, for a novel I'm trying to get to a house, so it's more specific, for a short, I just need to get to the right street or block.

  3. #3
    I used to vehemently be opposed to outlining, believing that writing was a process of discovery and therefore the story should be allowed to tell itself. This was youthful arrogance. Naivety.

    Since returning to writing after 5 years, I've found the process to be incredibly difficult and my first drafts look more like outlines than fleshed-out narratives. So, I am a reluctant outliner, but an outliner now nonetheless. I've come to the realization that when the words elude you, it's important to put whichever ones you can catch onto the page.
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  4. #4
    Member Rojack79's Avatar
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    Currently working on an outline for the first in a series of stories. It's been great so far despite all of the rewriting I've had to do to the outline itself. This is actually my first time using an outline for any of my writing. My other projects I just ran with whatever popped into my head. Ended up with 100,000 words fanfiction that I'm still not done with. So really I think it depends on the project at hand and how comfortable you are with writing the story in the best way to tell the story.
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  5. #5
    This question comes up a lot and I always wonder if this either/or dichotomy even exists, in practice. I can't imagine writing fiction to a strict outline because fiction unfolds as it progresses, with many of the discoveries not yet known before the story has been started.

    On the other hand, even if I don't write it out, I do have ideas in my mind before and during the writing, about where a story is headed or some points to hit along the way. I'm not sure how you could aim for or achieve a coherent story with a beginning, middle and end with nothing planned in advance, even if in your mind. That seems to me some measure of outlining.

    So, my answer is always "both."

    Strict outlining seems to me more fitting for nonfiction, and I do use them for that.

  6. #6
    As someone who is trying to write his first large story (perhaps it'll be a novel one day or just something to be found and wondered over after I croak), an outline seems a logical way to proceed, if only to get the intricacies of the plot sorted out.

    I'm trying not to consider the outline as something that is cast in stone, never to be altered. I want to remain flexible enough so if some amazing new idea occurs that could take the story in a new direction I won't discard it without at least looking at the possibilities. An outline is a nifty and low-impact way to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of new plot ideas.

    For me, having a general structure or blueprint to follow helps keep me on track. That said, re-writing an outline seems a lot easier than re-writing a half written story. It also allows me to evaluate any new directions with as little wasted time as possible.

    That's this amateur's perspective. YMMV.

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  7. #7
    I need to write an outline otherwise my story won't happen. I do keep it very detail light.
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  8. #8
    As so someone who has tried everything and read many books on how to write. I am now embracing outline approches that I can find. I dislike wasting my money on craft books with theory and enjoy doing writing exercises. So instead I am researching ways to outline. Of course this could change. But I feel as if I am picking up the last batch of books this week with theory. I want a whole view to how to write something. I struggle since I dont like my ideas. I like drama as much as the next person who will enjoy a good story. I have tried freewriting and it hasn't worked in a long time. That's how my last story was written. I also had a writing friend. If anyone has time to have a writing friend let me know. I just feel that I could exchange a story with another member on the story. Motivation is key. But so far, need to do some research as to what to write next. I want to write something using conventions of the genre. For it to have emotion but I keep failing at that. I do freewrite and analyze the work for interpretation. I think what I am going to do is look at some old stories and see if I see a metaphor where another story could exist. Maybe something I never developed because of not thinking it through.
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  9. #9
    Most of my books are fairly complex, so they usually have some type of outline. How I outline varies from book to book, depending on the story. Sometimes I just keep a 2B written list at the bottom of the document. Othertimes I have a full document for an outline.

  10. #10
    Member Sir-KP's Avatar
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    It's like one way path for me.

    Outline granted will be made when I imagine a story that I like. The realization however may not be as cool as I imagined and so from then on, the story grows out of its outline.

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