I tend to shy away from using outlines. But earlier this week I found myself outlining an idea with unexpected enthusiasm. Now, looking at what I've got on paper, I think--perhaps foolishly--that it might work.
Feeling this kind of optimism at this stage of the process has never happened to me before.
What I've got is barely written, the faintest hint of smoke revealing a vague sense of shape, a few words scribbled into a semi-organized sequence to serve as prompts to kick-start my imagination.
I view the outline as a kind of starting line from which I can set off to explore the story rather than as a finish line (which is how I've always viewed outlines in the past).
Oddly, this outline doesn't feel confining, constricting, or limiting. It hasn't yet destroyed the surprise or undermined the spontaneity of the writing process.
Instead, it's become a way into the story, offering a doorway revealing how the pieces of the story need to fit together in order for the story to stand on its own without collapsing in a heap.
It may sound strange, but I don't even think of it as an outline. Rather, I see it as a time-line, a roughly sketched guide proposing what might happen rather than what must happen.
I'm amazed at the freedom that I've found using this outline.
I've got a sense of direction for the first time in a long time. It feels like I'm swimming with a compass in my hand.
Of course, I know an outline can't solve all my problems.
But I'm learning that it can help me see the structure of my story early in the construction stage. It can reveal what might be missing and, perhaps more importantly, where I might need to go next.
It's a tool to help me think about the story, not a straight-jacket to prevent me from exploring the story but an arrow pointing a way.
What about you? Do you view outlines as helpful tools or as obstacles that keep you from swimming into your story?
Write when you get the chance and let us know.
For more information on using various kinds of outlines, visit: