Friday, August 29, 2014

To Outline or Not—Which is Better?

by Bruce Brady @BDBrady007

Two types of writers in this world, outliners and intuitive!
In the past year I’ve heard a lot of writer discussions, and passionate arguments, about whether to outline or not.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well that’s a no-brainer.” But is it? Those who have taught and argued that outlining is the best way to write range from beginning writers to editors to best-selling authors. The same is true for those who advocate in favor of intuitive writing.

There are two types of writers in this world. Those who map out their stories before they ever begin (outliners), and those who hear the voices (intuitive writers).

These tout the virtues of knowing the end of their story before they begin. Once they have their character profiles fleshed out and their plots clearly defined, the hard work is done. They can start spinning their stories as dictated by the outlines. They claim that this method calls for fewer rewrites.

These writers start with story ideas that may not have clear plots, or even clear endings. They could use outlines for clarity, but feel that doing so would restrict flexibility. These writers dialogue with their characters and adjust their stories based on conversations. Their first drafts are essentially an exercise in free-flowing word association, which becomes their outlines for the rewrites.

Whenever I try to outline, I find myself asking “what if” questions that force me to create a whole new outline—or at least modify the one I’ve started. Also, my stories come to me in scenes that aren’t necessarily chronological, complicating the outline process. These challenges usually stifle my creativity, and frustrate me to the point of giving up.

So which process is best?

Personal experience and my interactions with agents, editors and other writers have led me to the conclusion that both are good. It’s like when my wife and I travel. She prefers to know where we are going and where we’ll  spend each night before we start. I prefer allowing our journey to determine our destination and accommodations.

In other words, it’s not the method but the writer’s personality that will determine whether outlining or intuitive writing is best.

Both methods have their merits and challenges. If you tend to think in terms of “First there’s A, then B followed by C, you’ll probably do your best work by outlining. If, like me, you’re often chatting with your characters and your stories don’t come in a linear flow, then the intuitive approach is probably your best option. But that’s just my opinion.

So which method do you prefer? Why?

Don't forget to join the conversation!


Bruce Brady is an author, writer and playwright. His work has appeared in Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family,, and on stage. Currently, Bruce is working on a Young Adult Novel about a boy who must deal with the death of his dad, being bullied, and helping his mom through her grief. His first five pages took third place in the ACFW South Carolina Chapter’s “First Five Pages” contest.

When he’s not writing, Bruce spends time learning from and helping other writers. He serves as Mentor of Word Weavers International’s Online Chapter, and as a member of Cross ‘N’ Pens, The Writer’s Plot, ACFW’s National and South Carolina Chapters.

“My dream is to entertain my readers and give them hope as they travel the rocky road of life.”

Connect with Bruce on his blog, The Write VoyageFacebookTwitterGoogle+, and Pinterest.


  1. I have to have somewhat of an outline - or a map of where I'm heading. But then I let the characters take over. Rachel Hauck coined the word Planster and it fit me perfectly. I have a plan, the I I SOTP it. But without the plan, I'm dead in the water.

    1. Thanks Ane. I must admit that although I favor the intuitive route, I have to incorporate some aspects of outlining. It's the whole process of outlining that dulls my creativity and motivation.

  2. I'm intuitive/organic/seat-of-the-pants writer! Love to live the life of my characters with them - but I have to know the character first.

    1. Thanks DiAnn. I think knowing the character is more important than outlining. When I struggle, it's because I don't know my character well enough.

  3. DiAnn said it perfectly. Using an outline would be like writing with handcuffs . . . at least for me. :) Everyone has a little different approach, and it's freeing to know there is no right or wrong way -- just different. That's why God made us all unique.

    1. Thanks Andrea. You nailed it. Uniquely we're made and uniquely we write. If there were only one or two "right ways." we'd all sound alike.

  4. Thanks for this, Bruce. I've heard a lot of writers talk about their characters talking to them and making them change the story. I couldn't understand it. It made me think I'm not a real writer too. It's good to hear people are just different, not right or wrong.

    1. Thanks Ellen. There really is no right or wrong. We each have our own right or wrong, and that's all we need. This doesn't nullify the need to learn the different processes, it just helps us glean from them what's important to us individually.

  5. It's nice to meet another SOTP/Intuitive Writer. :)

    I generally know the beginning and end of my stories, but getting from Point A to Point Z is a vast mystery. Outlining, character charts, and all the other devices plotters use have the effect of tying my brain in knots.

    1. Thanks Susan. I'm with you. I too get bogged down in the middle. I plan to read James Scott Bell's "Write Your Novel From The Middle."