When NOT to Use an Outline

So, why should anyone not use an outline? Because it’s fun. Admit it. The recklessness of getting in the car one day and just driving without any plans or any idea where you’re going is appealing. Some mysterious stranger stops by and says, “Hey, I’m going on this quest. I could use your help,” and you’d jump for the chance of an adventure. You don’t know where you’re going or who you’ll encounter or how it will all unfold, and that’s what makes the journey all the more exciting. And when the story falls flat on its face, you might be able to step back and point at your characters, “It wasn’t my fault! They made me do it!”

That’s what it’s like writing without an outline. Is it wrong? No. Remember, a lot of writers will switch between being a plotter (one who uses outlines) and a pansters (one who doesn’t use outlines). I am one such writer. I prefer to outline my historical fiction mainly because of all the dates, events, and actual historical figures encountered in those books, so an outline is useful. However, being stuck to the rules get mundane at times, and I want nothing more than to break free and just write—for fun.

However, there is one thing you should keep in mind when considering not using an outline when you write. Writing without an outline is best when you don’t have a deadline. Now, it’s not impossible to have a deadline but write without an outline, yet deadlines demand principled writing, and they don’t give room for the exploration of random scenes which may or may not be in the story or for Writer’s Block.

Writing without an outline puts the writer very in tune to the story and the characters. The author constantly has his finger on the pulse of the story, listening for any signal from the characters of changing the course of the story. This also gives the WRITER a chance to be surprised by the story. A protagonist character may do an action that shocks both you and the antagonist. Someone else you thought was dead may suddenly appear in the story with a longwinded explanation as to how he really didn’t die. Two characters you thought for sure would end up together happen to be third cousins twice removed, which makes for complications.

As you can see, there isn’t a shortage of surprises you can experience when writing without an outline. It makes you go, “AHHH!” then “That’s awesome!” then “Bahahaahahaha” then “Wait—no!! Now what am I going to do?” It’s commonly said if the author is shocked or cries, the reader will then be shocked or cry. This is part of the addiction to writing without an outline.

So, if you’re tired from writing with everything mapped out, and if you don’t have a deadline to meet but just want to explore the writing world and characters, writing without an outline may be what you need. If you haven’t written for a while, but every time you sit down to write, you find yourself discouraged because you think you need to do all that planning and prep work (world building, character questionnaires, etc.) stop for a second. You might give yourself Writer’s Block just thinking like that. It might be that you need to write and step away from the norm and expected and just try writing without an outline.

You may find this isn’t for you—doesn’t work for you, and that doesn’t make it wrong. Everyone has their preferences, and it varies from person to person. What works for you may not work for someone else, and that is very important to recognize.

However, sometimes in the middle of writing a story that you’ve outline, you find the story isn’t going that direction, so what do you do? Is it possible for you to both have an outline and not have an outline for the same story? We’ll discuss that in next week’s post, and then we’ll finally move on from the topic of outlines!

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3 comments on “When NOT to Use an Outline

  1. That’s a good suggestion. There are times I try outlining only to fail miserably with writer’s block. When I’m writing without one though it’s not nearly that bad. I might have an occasional issue where I’m unsure of something since I didn’t research it for an outline, but I can always write through and come back to it later.

    • Kellannetta says:

      Exactly. If you find yourself encountering Writer’s Block because you’re using an outline, try not using one. If you’re unsure about detail, you can always pause, do brief research, ask a writers group if necessary, but then move on. In the end, you’ll have to go back and revise, but revision is a necessary step whether or not you use an outline. Keep writing!

  2. […] 28: When NOT To Use An Outline – A continuation from the previous post, this one focuses on the other side. It discusses when […]

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