Do I Really Need an Outline of Some Sort?

I have always been the kind of writer who simply sits down and writes.  I have a story idea and I simply write it.  Of course, like any other writer, I then have to edit and do rewrites until it is as good as I believe it can possibly be.

However, as I have been attending a writers’ group and reading some books on writing, I have given this a bit more thought, and now see at least one good reason for some type of outline.  I believe I may have mentioned in my post about our last writers’ group that the guest speaker mentioned that she had created a minor character for one of her stories and hadn’t written down her information about that character, and when the story went to the editor, the editor contacted her and explained that she gave two different physical descriptions of that character in two different scenes.  It is easy to see how that can happen, so I would say that is a very good reason to have at least some kind of outline of your characters.  I also believe there are other good reasons for having an outline.

I will admit, though, that I have never enjoyed creating outlines.  I find them a bit too structured and when I try to use them, I feel my creativity drain away.  Can anyone relate?

Then I read Short Story:  From First Draft to Final Product by Michael Milton (I know I’ve mentioned this ebook before).  In this helpful, little book, I found an outline that encourages creativity instead of stifling it, because you use it while brainstorming!  It is called the “Herringbone” diagram and Michael Milton credited it to David Mitchell.  It was explained as drawing a vertical line on a piece of paper.  This is the “spine”.  Then insert “bones” off this spine which represent the chapters.  Coming off those bones are smaller bones which represent scenes within those chapters, and coming from those can be bits of dialogue, sentences or ideas that will be part of these scenes.  (This is like advanced brainstorming.)  With a few ideas already there for what needs to happen in each section, it should be easy to write during writing time.  I’m looking forward to giving this type of outline a try.

What type of outline do you use and do you find it helpful?

2 thoughts on “Do I Really Need an Outline of Some Sort?

  1. I shy away from outlines. I do, however, make notes about my characters, giving them physical and psychological features, and giving them a little depth. This assists me so that I don’t mistakenly describe anyone wrong and helps me develop the character within the story. I also don’t write by chapter. I write by scene. The title I give each scene stops me from losing my place in the story and going off into tangents that will just be cut away later.


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