Outlining versus Free Writing

When it comes to short stories and novels, I’ve always had trouble with the question of free writing versus outlining.  In my first two novels, I outlined them to death.  One of the reasons I have problems with them is that over-outlining lead to less of a realistic flow.  A good flow comes building a good base to your story and building realistic characters.  Then you set them free.  The magic happens when you let them do what they would normally do.  You no longer control them.  They are their own person.

However, such free writing is often difficult.  If you don’t set up “checkpoints” for how far the story has to go in a certain amount of time, it will lead nowhere.  I think I have found a good in-between with my new novel.  In no way am I outlining the piece to death.  At the same time, I am putting together the right amount of checkpoints.  I know that these checkpoints cannot be the end-all.  Everything must be flexible.  Otherwise you are trying to stuff a story into a box that it should not fit in.

I’ll try to have a poem or flash fiction piece for you tomorrow.  And yes, I did reach my 2,000 word goal for today.  I also extended the outline toward the finish line.  The end is within reach.  I can almost taste it.

13 thoughts on “Outlining versus Free Writing

  1. I can’t do free writing at all; otherwise I don’t know where I’m headed! But when I outline, I try to keep it simple, breaking my book down to a list of sentences. These don’t dictate how characters act or what they do, but just what is supposed to happen in any given chapter or scene.

    • Have you ever come across a situation where what you plan on writing comes in conflict with what your character would actually do? I’ve had that happen a few times. That is the very reason why I only plan a novel a few chapters ahead…any further than that and I realize I haven’t put enough thought into the mental state of the characters.

      • That’s why I write all of my outlines in longhand. If a character goes too far off the deep end still, I try to find ways to change him/her. If they’re not contributing to the direction I want to take the story to, either it’s play nice or get out.

  2. I found exactly the same thing when I first tried to write a novel some years ago (I, uh, still haven’t finished it). With the story I’m working on now, however, I’ve struck a balance that works for me. Since the chapters each have names, this in itself serves as the checkpoint. I know not only what each chapter needs to be about, but also how it needs to lead into the next chapter. Directed free writing, I suppose you could call it. 🙂

    • Directed Free Writing is the perfect term. Clinging to either side of the spectrum is just a horrible idea. Writing long stories means having to find your place on the spectrum. Chapter checkpoints are usually what I do, but I find that I only ever plan 6-8 chapters ahead with a general idea of where it need to go from there. Do you plan out every chapter before you start or just a few?

      • With the story I’m writing, I actually have a plan over the span of seven separate novels. So far the title of each novel is more or less fixed, but the chapter structure of the first book (the one I’m working on) is all I’ve done further than that. It also helps that the book is broken down into parts of five chapters each.

  3. A good balance of both is definitely important. I generally hate to outline, but find if I don’t I just end up rambling on and on. It usually behooves me to have a general course for the story to take, and then just gently nudge my characters in that direction.

    …The story ends when they’re all dead. Those idiots.


  5. I’ve found that if I free-write, I almost always paint myself into a corner. I like to outline so that I have the bones put together and then hang the meat. I even do bios for the characters and write a few paragraphs in their own words. I find that puts me in their mindset and then keeps me there weeks later if I get lost.

    • I love this approach. I’ve never done much with creating profile and practicing for several character’s perspective…but I could easily see how it could help. Creating characters is easy. It’s making sure characters act how they would normally act that I find difficult. Writing some paragraphs from their perspective would make that so much easier.

  6. Pingback: This is… | Zara ~ a writing story

  7. Pingback: Writing a New Book: Day 2: Environment and Outline | WordsmithWorks

  8. Pingback: Writing a New Book: Day 4: Outline Polish and On to Free-Writing! | WordsmithWorks

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