To Outline, or not to Outline?


One thing I have come across a lot in all of my reading, research, and trial and error on my end is the topic of outlines.  It’s so widely discussed that I would say the results are split evenly down the middle for those for and those opposed (and this all from published authors).

From what I have gathered and felt out for myself, it seems that whether or not you outline is based purely on what works for you as the creative and there can be advantages and disadvantages for both.


In school, I was always taught that I should outline my essays to make sure I get all the content I needed into the work and make the best grade possible.  The reason an outline is encouraged is because it creates a road map of sorts on where you want to go with the content of your work (be it an essay, fiction/non-fiction novel, etc); and there are several ways that you can go about outlining.

Here is a good breakdown of several ways to outline: 8 Ways to Outline a Novel

There are several advantages to outlining.  As stated before, one of the biggest ones is creating this map that will help you figure out where you are going and the journey it takes to get there.  But there are other advantages as well.

  • You know when you want key points to happen.
  • It can help you brainstorm past points you are stuck.
  • It can help prevent major rewrite sections by pointing out any plot holes you may have ahead of time.

Among other things.  If you find yourself as a person who needs planning and organization then outlining is the way to go for you.

From what I’ve seen of outlines, once they are completed you might feel obligated to follow them through to the end.  While that may not be a problem if the story is truly going the way you want it, it can stifle creativity a little if you don’t allow for the possibility that the story needs to take a different direction then what you had originally planned.

Also depending on how thorough yo were with the outline, it could also hurt the flow of your story because it becomes a matter or writing out what you have already written.


No Outline (Pantsers)
When you don’t outline your story you are considered a pantser (so called because you write by the seat of your pants).  There is no specific plan for your story, you just write and see where the story takes you.

While it might seem haphazard to write in such a manner, I think you might be surprised to know that many people find this way of writing much more freeing than they expected.  I have heard several authors refer to their characters “coming alive” and doing things they did not expect them to do and it is exciting.  This goes back to the idea that you are the first and most important reader of your story.

The biggest advantage is that you have the freedom to let the story develop however you feel it wants to.  You don’t have to feel pressure to stick with your original plan because there is none.  Many people find that not having an outline allows their story to take turns they never expected and it ends up making that story better than it potentially would have been.

There are two potentially big disadvantages to this type of writing.  If you find yourself stuck, there is no outline to reference to help you move past that hurdle.  And, if something goes wrong and you discover a plot hole it could potentially lead to several pages of work having to be tossed and rewritten.


Still there have been several best sellers that have been written by people who are outliners and those who are pantsers.  It really boils down to what works best for you.

Personally, I tend to mix it up a little bit but lean predominantly on the pantser side of things.

How about you?



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