Craft Quote #3 – To Outline Or Not To Outline?


When I start to write, I don’t have any plan at all. I just wait for the story to come. I don’t choose what kind of story it is or what’s going to happen. – Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is the author of international bestsellers, Norwegian WoodKafka on the Shore, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle known for experimental writing and narrators who deal with love, isolation, and fantastical experiences.

Murakami is not the only proclaimed writer to prefer little to no story planning, George R R Martin (author of A Song of Snow and Ice, later on released by HBO as series Game of Thrones) calls himself a writer of the gardener variety; one who has a general idea of the seed of the story, what genre it is, but let’s it grow mostly untamed and explored during growth. Architect writers are their opposites. They build a story knowing the blueprints of the plot, the family tree, flaws of each character, and a likely ending. Writers can typically be divided into two categories; those who outline and those who do not. I am in the latter group. For me, creativity flows more fluidly when it is not in the constraints of an outline and needing to know how the story is going to end. Multiple outlines for dystopian science fiction stories sit in my writing desk  drawer, and although they are great in theory, they have amounted to nothing more than hours spent note taking rather than writing the story. Opening a blank page of a word doc or notebook can be daunting, but writing without a plan or desired ending takes a lot of that pressure off and can end in much more productive writing sessions.

Do you write outlines or no? Why does this practice work for you?

8 thoughts on “Craft Quote #3 – To Outline Or Not To Outline?

  1. I cant imagine writing to an outline. Seems far too contrived. Having said that I did outline the first half of a mystery some time ago, just to see if outlining might be beneficial or if I liked it. Maybe some day I’ll go back to it but in general that seed is all I need to get going.

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    1. Did you end up writing your mystery or did it end up like the stack of outlines in my desk? Some outlining could be helpful when writing a longer story just to organize initial thoughts, but beyond that is like you said, a little too contrived.

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  2. I’ve tried both ways. When I did my MA and then my MFA in creative writing, I found that the stories I wrote for workshop, which were later turned in to my theses, were completely spontaneous. However, I found that the longer the story went, the more characters started to sound like me or my husband. I didn’t want to be one of those writers who wrote her own life story and hid behind the label “fiction.” Therefore, I try to think a bit harder about what my character would do, not what I would do. I”m not sure if this new way is considered planning in advance, but I need to think about who that person is, for sure, even if I just imagine him/her in my head for a long time first.

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    1. I think longer projects definitely warrant character planning, mostly to prevent that issue of different characters melting into one or sounding a little too familiar. It’s a much more productive form of outlining since a character’s motivations, feelings, and background add more depth to the story than a well-outlined plot.

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      1. I see what you mean. I’m practicing writing a novel-length book by parodying a Harlequin novel I read in 1998. That way, I have a general idea of what the plot is, but I’m making the characters my own. Just to practice, really, though I’m pretty funny, too *tooting own horn*

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