Outlining and Themes

Many writers online argue about the benefits of outlining. I’ve seen too many clickbait articles taking sides with titles like, “Why You Shouldn’t Outline” or “You’re Outlining Wrong”.

I find that I, personally, write better when I outline my plan beforehand. I don’t mark every specific thing, but elements I want to touch on as the story moves naturally. I think that last part is most important: natural flow.

Too many writers will either stick too closely to an outline or drift too far from one. In the former case you see authors who hit very coordinated and expected points of interest in a story, while everything in between bores readers. In the latter case you see authors who start off with a clear plan and objective, but lose certain plot threads over time, ultimately finishing them off with short paragraphs tying those threads in a haphazard bow. You end up with a story that’s interesting to read but really goes nowhere.

The trick to outlining is finding what you want to say and giving yourself the freedom to explore that.

Something I learned in a writing class I took was to explore your writing for themes, then once you have those themes, you can explore them further. Outlines should help you organize your thoughts about those themes, but they shouldn’t limit your exploration or creativity. They exist to limit you to specifics, not to erase generalities.

The last thing you want to do is hit the specifics and miss a general concept.

Find what works for you. You need both freedom in creativity and organization to make it work, and you may or may not benefit from certain types of outlining.

There’s a tension there that every writer has to deal with, and I hope you figure it out.


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