Guest Post – Jessica Lave

So, as promised, the first guest post on this blog. And without further ado, I’ll hand you over:

Do You Write First, Think Later or Outline?

Jessica Lave

There is no wrong way to write a story—either you do it or you don’t. Still, some writers are most productive with a strategy in mind. Thus the debate: start with an outline or get the words down first and rework them later?

What are the merits and drawbacks of outlining and free-writing? Here is a short list:

Pros of Outlining

1) Your story has direction. An outline lays out the important plot points so if you get stuck, you know where you need to go, making it easier to work out a solution to get there.

2) You can develop your characters. With an outline, you can give your characters detailed backgrounds and personalities. It can be hard to keep track of all that in your head if you free-write.

3) You can track your good ideas. We all have those little flashes of brilliance from time to time, and an outline can help you figure out which ones really belong in your story.

Pros of Free-writing

1) You don’t have to be a perfectionist. Free-writing can be really liberating in that respect. A few typos or syntax errors won’t matter: you’ll be editing it later anyway.

2) You don’t feel obligated to stick to a plotline. Characters don’t always do what you expect—they’re funny that way. An outline might make you feel like you have to set them back on course, but free-writing means you can let them sail wherever the winds take them!

3) You can get really creative. You can go off on tangents and write those awesome scenes that may not necessarily fit. It’ll be up to you later to rewrite, cut out, or bulk up any scenes that came out a little rough around the edges.

Cons of Outlining

1) It can lead to formulaic writing. Sometimes outlines make a story sound stiff. If you‘re writing an outline six levels deep with paragraphs for each point, you may be limiting your characters with an overly detailed plot.

2) It might make you want to quit. Sometimes a story based on an outline doesn’t sound as good as the outline sounded on its own. With too many limitations, you might lose interest once you actually start writing.

Cons of Free-writing

1) You might run out of steam. Once all those great scenes and conversations are written, you may have a hard time filling in the gaps to turn it into a cohesive story.

2) You may inadvertently contradict yourself. If you’re free-writing, it’s harder to keep track of subplots and character details as you go. As a result, you may have to spend a lot of time finding and fixing inconsistencies.

There are plusses and minuses to each strategy, so it may take a few trial-and-error runs to figure out which one works for you. However, learning how to tell a story, not just write words on a page, is worth the effort.

Jessica Lave is a freelance writer with experience writing everything from sales copy to full-length novels. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys yoga, going to the movies, and reading crime and horror novels.

Her new book is a fantasy mystery novella entitled A 21st Century Fairy Tale, now available on Amazon.

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