Didn’t you know? A bad outline is the death of a good story.

How can you be creative when everything is already planned out for you?

No emotion in the writer, no emotion in the reader.

How can you follow this rule when you already know everything that’s going to happen?

Like an overbearing parent, a detailed outline can suck all the danger and excitement out of your next story. Here’s a post from NY Book Editors that explains all the problems writers, especially newer writers, cause for themselves whenever they outline their work.

So that’s it? All this talk about how dangerous outlines are, let’s just forget about them?

Please. If not for your sake, think of your readers. You gotta outline.

WHY? You’re a creative person, and you’ve got a million ideas, and whenever you sit down to write, you always seem to come up with more. What do YOU need an outline for?

  • You’re going to forget things. Sometimes your best ideas will come to you well before you’re ready to write them out. What do you do? Shove it in an outline.
  • You need to see things from above. You know generally what your story is about, but there’s something about putting it all on paper that’s going to make it come together – and it’ll help you see where it’s falling apart. On top of this, it’s much easier to see the theme of your story once you’ve got a general plot (hopefully character driven) in a concise, quickly readable format.
  • You’re going to forget things. What was I saying? Oh, yeah, that’s where I wanted to send the story next. Outlines help keep you on track, so you can drive toward that final climax, or hammer out that important turning point.
  • Will your voice and the point of view work with this story? Have you ever written a few pages using third person, only to realize that your story is begging for a first person perspective? Have you ever started a great story idea, only to realize that the tone just isn’t going to match your style? What can you d- OUTLINE.

How do you outline? First, you need to figure out what kind of outliner you are. There are two houses, the gardeners, and the architects* (you can always be something in between).

Gardeners like to start planting (writing) the second they know how much room they have, or once they have a rough idea of where the story will go, or what kind of story it will be.

If you consider yourself a gardener, you’ve got the easiest job of outlining. All you really need is a page or two with your major turning points (3 acts? 4 quarters? It’s up to you, but you need to set a good pace for your pinches and squeezes, or peaks and valleys). Focus on your characters and your themes.

Don’t forget to write down important events or characteristics you create for your characters as you go.

Architects plan out every last detail. They’ve got a hefty blueprint, spanning many pages, explaining details such as settings, character traits, histories, cultures and cultural traditions, speech patterns, etc.

If you consider yourself a gardener, you’ve got your work set out for you (but chances are, it’s the kind of work you’ll love).

Want to know where to start? Try the snowflake method or check out this list for other ideas.

Remember, the more you write, and the more you outline, the more you will understand exactly what YOU need from an outline.

Wait! Don’t go yet! I want to know about you – how do you outline? Are you an in-betweener, like me? Are you a planning fanatic? How did you find out which kind of outline worked for you?

Tell us everything in the comments below, and don’t forget to leave a like and follow this blog. Thanks for reading!

Check out my latest Short Story, The Outward Path, which you can read online here, or download the free ebook from Smashwords here.

*This Architects vs. Gardeners analogy shamelessly stolen from an interview with George R. R. Martin, which you can read in full here.

Image courtesy of Dashitnow via Flickr Creative Commons.