Novel & Story Writing: Outline or Freeform

As I begin work on my third novel (all unpublished to date — I’m working on it), I find myself discovering incredible value in the outline. When I first began writing long-form fiction, I embraced the romantic notion that one just began in a flurry of inspired passion, starting with sentence one and rushing to the end. No doubt, there are successful authors who have used this technique. But increasingly, I ask myself, why?

It very well may be the nature of the tale I enjoy spinning, with myriad characters following their own intertwining paths through the story. I suppose if you were writing a simple story of one man with a singular obstacle,  an outline would be less necessary. Even then, there would be value.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of discovery through writing. It’s imperative I think. And there will be always be rewrites, even with the best-planned outlines. But an outline allows you to see the big picture that otherwise would, at least on some levels, elude the writer.

I use the term outline loosely here. My current outline consists of scene descriptions, character stories and even world descriptions. But as I develop my “outline,” I have found the thrill of creative discovery that rivals that found in writing straight pose. And I think that discovery comes from seeing how all these objects interact in my little world — often with delighted surprise.

I am incredibly anxious to start the prose phase, but I also am embracing the joy found in crafting a well-thought-out plot, filled with relevant and intriguing characters.

Words are messy, but they’re the only ones we’ve got.

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4 thoughts on “Novel & Story Writing: Outline or Freeform

  1. miker says:

    Nice…I’ve never attempted a novel, but when writing plays and screenplays I typically went overboard planning. At one point my apartment dining room was covered in note cards with plot points so I could experiment with just how non-linear I was able to go.

  2. griff says:

    My problem with outlining (a personal problem) is that it forces linear thought which i believe is counter to the way the human brain works (or at least mine). I will use the same mind mapping techniques that I use for note taking to develop a story. It allows you to capture the non linear crazy thoughts before they flee and then pick and choose the pieces when assembling later. I guess you could claim it is all the same difference in the end.

    Is the story of Kerauac writing On The Road on one long ass piece of paper true? I refuse to believe that.

    • You know, I think that’s a really good point about linear thought. I think maybe I used the wrong term when I said “outline.” I invented all these disparate characters and then started sort of guessing what would happen if they were in a story together. So even though my process was organized, it wasn’t linear. The growth of this thing has been very organic. But in the past, my brainstorm notes were spread out through my notebook (or as has usually been the case, notebooks), and it was very difficult to get the “cohesive overview” that I craved. By using the organizing software that I’ve been using, I can move quickly between various notes and thoughts.

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