Should You Outline Before You Write?

Laura J. Thompson

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Some people write best by organization, while others prefer to let the creative juices flow. Outlining has been a long-debated issue in writer's groups and classes nationwide, and individual authors will give very different advice. Unfortunately, there is no right answer when it comes to whether or not you should outline before you right, but here are a few tips for deciphering your personal style.

Do You Need to Know the Ending?
One of the first questions you should ask yourself before deciding if you should outline before you write is whether or not you need to know the ending to your book or short story before you start. Some writers can't get out the first sentence without having a plot road map, while others like to “wing it".

If it bothers you not to have an idea where your story is heading, it might be better to outline. Jotting down a few sentences about each chapter will give you an instant blueprint of your story, which helps you get off to a running start.

Would You Prefer to Let Your Characters Evolve?
The characters are the backbone of any story, and play a large part in your decision of whether you should outline before you write. Penning your story without an outline gives you a certain freedom of characterization; you can change physical attributes, likes, dislikes and character traits on a whim, without having to adjust a previously outlined plot.

If, however, you'd rather write a character sketch before you write, an outline will be beneficial. Knowing what your characters will be doing throughout your manuscript can help to picture each character in your mind.

Are You Methodical or Creative?
Some people are inherently more methodical than others, and you shouldn't force yourself to change your writing style. If you write more comfortably with a road map, outlining before you write will give you peace of mind.

One of the benefits of outlining is the ability to plan all of your steps in advance. This sometimes prevents writer's block and will keep a steady stream of output flowing through your mind. Plus, you'll be able to look back through a few pages of outlining to recall a detail in a previous chapter rather than paging through hundreds of paragraphs to find your answer.

Do You Outline Because You're Supposed To
Many writers get into the habit of outlining because that was a requirement during high school and college. If it doesn't help you write better fiction, then there's no reason to create an outline before you write. If, however, you get something out of the exercise, you're better off with the outline. Make the judgment call based on our own personal writing preferences.

No one is going to check your outline before you write and if you choose not to outline, no one will know except for you. It is also important to remember that an outline could be a simple plot sketch written in alphabetical form; it doesn't have to contain roman numerals or letters in order to be legitimate.

Laura J. Thompson is a professional editor, ghostwriter and consultant. She provides these services at competitive prices for both businesses and individuals all across the United States. You can learn more about her services by visiting her website ( ) or by reading more of her articles. She specializes in fiction ghostwriting and editing, though she also enjoys self-help and other non-fiction articles and books.

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