To Outline or Not to Outline


Photo: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Creativity is a fickle beast. Even those born with the natural affinity to create are subject to the ebb and flow of their internal muse. Writers are no different. Subjected to deadlines, writer’s block and dried up inspiration, we too struggle. In some corner of our mind, we rationalize that if the story wishes to be told, it will write itself and the flow of our thoughts will simply track from point to point. Sadly that is not always the case.

Crafting a story from beginning to end is a daunting task and can be made even more so when you are attempting to co-author. Because of the choice that Jei and I have made to co-write our book, some of the fundamentals of writing a novel become more complex. One of the largest problems we have faced with the manuscripts rewrite was the possible execution of an outline.

To outline or not to outline.  When we faced down this question, we found a plethora of articles, blogs and writers attempting to answer it. Immediately we found ourselves overwhelmed with the differences of opinion, the arguments for or against and whole books dedicated to the art of outlining. There seemed to be no real preferred method and we were left with more questions than answers.

As we began to discuss it, we realized that, just like we did with our writing schedule, no one method would fit our situation. We had to make our own. Laying out what we needed, we were forced to analyze what did or did not work for ourselves individually. Quickly, it became apparent that we were on opposite sides of the spectrum. While I was more of a lists, notes and order type of person, Jei was more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of person. We somehow needed to create an outline that would accommodate both styles.

Our solution became evident. We needed to have a more fluid structure. First, we compromised to meet in the middle when it came to the overall outline. We kept it to a minimum with a beginning, middle and end. Second, we agreed that as we zeroed in on the story we wanted to tell, we would add another layer of outline to cover the acts and chapters we were working on.

With the fluid outline in place, we found both of our needs were met. Jei was free to flow from item to item, and I was given the structure I needed to add to the prose as well. While it seemed impossible at first, we have found our system to be an apt solution to the mixture of two different writing methods.


What kind of writing outlines do you use? How did you come up with or find your outline structure? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

8 thoughts on “To Outline or Not to Outline

  1. Sometimes a piece will just flow out of me and at that point I let it happen but if I think it could become someting I generally will create an outline. My outlines for works like this subsist of three lists: beginning, middle, end.

    If I have an idea in my head that I want to turn into something I usually start by listing my “what ifs” to see what it needs. Then I like to do a more thorough sketch. Characters, setting. From there I will outline the plot without too much detail so as to feel limited but with enough to make sure I’m hitting all the plot points that are necessary to the arc.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve tried outlining and writing a description of the key plot points, but it seems like the characters and situations take over as soon as I start writing and the outline goes by the wayside. At best, I manage to stick to large-scale events and then do my best to get the story to those places.


    1. And honestly that is exactly what Jei has to do! Finding a middle ground was hard. It’s so personal a process isn’t it?

      Thanks for the response! Always enjoy hearing from other writers.

      Liked by 1 person

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