This is a hard topic to cover. On the one hand, having an outline completed before you start writing can give you direction and keep your story moving in the direction you want it to go. On the other hand, sometimes no matter how detailed your outline is your characters will say “NO. I’m going over here instead.” Since I’m just starting out my life as a writer, I haven’t decided yet which way works best for me. However, I can tell you my experiences with outlining so far.
For my NaNoWriMo project, Dragons at Dawn, I didn’t make a detailed outline before I started, but I did plan some basic plot scenes for the beginning of the story. I never actually developed an outline for the project, as the story just kind of developed a life of its own. As a matter of fact, I didn’t know how it was going to end until two days before I finished. At that point, everything just seemed to fall into place and before I knew it I was done.
For my current project, Finding Valhalla, I started without an outline, but by the time I had written 25,000 words I had decided how the story was going to end. With that in mind, I decided the best way to make sure I got there was with an outline. I am using a beta copy of Scrivener for Windows for my writing, which made it really easy to move my scenes around and plan for new scenes to cover the rest of the story. The problem was that by the time I had finished I had to edit at least four scenes that I had already finished because they had moved to a new point in the story. As a matter of fact, I just finished getting them back in right before I started working on this blog post. But even with my planning, during the writing process my story has drifted away from the outline and now I need to take some time to edit it for the changes.
I have read books in the past that say the best way to be a successful, prolific writer is to use some form of outline. Sometimes this is a detailed plan. Sometimes it’s just Post-It Notes on a bulletin board. Scrivener has a virtual corkboard that I like that replicates this style of planning. I have also heard stories about successful authors that don’t use any kind of outline at all. In the end you have to use whatever works best for you. I’m going to try outlining the whole plot before I start writing my next project and see how that goes.
What is your experience with outlines? Do you outline everything before you start, or do you just write whatever comes to you? If you use an outline, how difficult is it for you to stick to it? What do you do when you get off track?