20 October 2012

Not an Outline – NO!

When I speak with other creative types, the mention of an outline seems to create shudders and signs of the cross or other holy gestures to ward off a demon.  I try to find the reason that my fellows do such things.  Most times, I get told an outline is too stifling to their creative process.  I’ve yet to convince them that a modern writer’s outline is nothing like we’re taught to create in school. 

I’m sure everyone knows this style of outline, as its what the teachers hammered into our minds:

Title goes here
I.  First Chapter heading
     A.  Concept point 1
            1.  Support
            2.  Support
     B.  Concept point 2
            1.  Support
            2.  Support
II.  Second chapter...

It’s a very rigid structure.  Not easy to break into a story.  But it was what everyone was taught an outline was.

Yeah.  No.

Here’s another thought.  Take a story concept that you’re considering and write out a series of bullet points that you’d like the idea to cover.  Maybe add a sub point with snippets of dialogue, or character motivations for that scene. 

- John and Jane trapse through the woods.
    - Jane wants a new wand for magic school
    - John wants Jane
- A wolf descends on John and Jane
    - wolf is Jane’s father
- John beans wolf in temple
- They run home, find Jane’s dad with ice pack against temple

Believe it or not, the above is also a type of outline.  It’s more open, more free flowing.  Its not something that you’re stuck with as you go through the story.  How often does the concept and the story match from inception to completion?  It shifts, I’m sure.  So the outline must shift with it.  Suppose the wolf is actually Jane’s mother, or John’s father?  That shift can be made.

A writer’s outline is designed to be a tool to assist them with the creation of the story, not a noose to hang them with if they break into a tangent.  Yes, some writers do create without an outline.  Nothing wrong with that, or with any other method. 

You have to use what works best for you.

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