To Outline or Not to Outline?

Some authors are big fans of outlines, figuring out long in advance of putting pen to paper the book’s sequence of events.  I’ve heard of this process entailing items from wall maps to colour-coded index cards – one colour for the major turning points in the characters’ relationships, another for the plot.  In a use of Excel that would make Bill Gates proud, one author used spreadsheets to map out the novel’s schematics. 

Outline users argue that, “If you don’t know what you’re going to write, how can you write it?”  Others strongly suspect that if you don’t outline it must mean that your story is not particularly complicated or if it is, you’re at risk of writing yourself into a corner.  This, come to think of it, might explain “the shift in the time-space continuum” that so many stories of a certain type seem to fall back on.

I don’t typically outline, but I am at times persuaded to by a fear of whether I can make certain elements of the story hang together without relying on time-space shifts.  I outlined, for example, the corporate intrigue that forms part of Tumbling After.  Otherwise, I’m in the do-not-outline camp, believing – as many writers do – that characters can have their own stories to tell and those stories aren’t always apparent until you start writing them.  For me, it’s a huge part of the fun of writing.  That said, I always, always know where it will end – you can only let those fictitious types have so much control.

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