Should you create an outline for your story?

This is not a post telling you to outline your story. It’s also not a post telling you not to outline your story. My thought on this subject is everyone should do what works best for them. My suggestion is to try both. Write a story using an outline. Write one without using an outline. Then determine which one works best for you.

While I won’t tell you to use, or not use, an outline, I will tell you whichever option you choose, it may not work for you on every project. Sometimes, it will make sense to use an outline. There may be times where an entire story manifests itself and the best way to capture all its components is to do a rough sketch – an outline.

Then, there are times when you’re staring at a blank page with a story nowhere to be found. In this case, I would pick a character, a point of view, and just start writing. Write anything. Let the character take you wherever he or she wants to take you. It could lead to a wonderful story, if you let it.

One more thought on using an outline. If you decide this is the best option for you and your story, don’t hold onto it so tight that you are unwilling to let your characters take you down a different path.

I’ve done this before and ended up with characters that were flat. They weren’t interesting and they behaved in ways that were unnatural, doing things they would never do based on what they had done earlier in the story. There have been times when I had to go back to the beginning of the story and make changes so it would flow into the new direction a character has taken me. But, in the long run, it was worth the extra effort. It made for a better story. Sometimes, your characters will know better than you where the story should take your readers. Don’t fight it. After all, you created the characters. Trust them to do your bidding, even if it is unintentional. They are inside your head. They can read your mind. Let them.

Just make sure you can keep track of where the characters are heading. Too much freedom and the path will wind and twist until you have a story even you as the writer will have trouble untangling. Give your characters some room to roam but pull them back in when it feels like they are starting to tell a different story. This would be a good time to do that rough sketch – an outline – for your next book.

So, should you create an outline? The answer is yes, if you find it to be a useful tool and it will help you finish your project. But, the answer is no, if it will be a hindrance to the creative process.

Trust yourself. Trust your characters. Trust whichever process you choose.