Does outlining cage or release the creative spirit?

Outline cages dinosaur

Does planning cage your creative spirit?

During a regular ladies-what-lunch day with my mum this week, we got talking about writing and books, as we often do. My mum was telling me about an Alan Bennett interview in which he admitted that he was no good at plots, to which my mum told me he’s brilliant at dialogue, building characters through the dialogue. Then I said, ‘The characters then build their own plot.’

This is how I used to write. When finishing wasn’t important to me because I was writing purely for me, with no end in sight, just practising. I would throw my heroine onto the page/screen and just go.

I’m writing a trilogy at the moment and that was how the first book came about, before it was going to be a trilogy, when I was bored one day and it was raining. I wrote ‘It was raining’ and before I knew it, a heroine, back story and plot had been created. It took me six years to write, with a gap in the middle to write another novel, so probably four or five years really (and because I’m always learning, I’m still putting the finishing touches to it but it will be complete this year).

I started writing the second book at the end of 2013 and I’m a week or so off finishing the first draft. But this one is different, I think. I didn’t pluck the heroine out of the air and allow the book to develop as it went. But I already had the characters, developed in the first book. I sat down and did a proper outline, short synopsis and all, setting it out scene by scene, and I’ve only moved away from the outline marginally as I’ve been writing and characters have taken me into slightly different directions.

Taking into consideration the number of years between starting each book and how much I have learned in that time, I wonder how much of a difference the outline has made. I’ll admit, when I said those words to my mum during lunch, I came over cold. Have I dampened the creative spirit of my second novel, which I’m already proud of? Will it be bad? Or have I found a method of developing the ideas in my head in an effective way that allows for both creativity and deadlines? I guess only time will tell.

Do you write with a plan or outline, or let the characters take you where they will?

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4 responses to “Does outlining cage or release the creative spirit?

  1. I missed this when you first posted it! I do it both ways. My novel has a plan, but it’s pretty basic. Some of my short stories start without a plan, then I write one. Others never get one at all. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way; just whatever works for you and the story. 😉

    • I used to write like that, but now I seem to always have a plan. Even if it’s just a few words to remind me of where I’m going…which often gets lost or changes anyway! But I’ve found it a lot easier to outline novels.
      You’re definitely right – it’s whatever works for you 🙂

  2. My first book created itself, but I know with book two I have to outline – at least so I can ensure everything I want to happen is possible. To think about that though, gives me anxiety. I don’t want to do it. I don’t think I’ll do it…

    • 😀 I had that problem! The first book sorted itself, but the second book took a lot of planning. Problem is, now the second book is better and longer than the first, so back to the first book I go!
      I actually found the second book so much easier to write, although the characters still take over in places. I just rewrote the plan!

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