I use outlines when I write.

Sometimes, I’ll see professional authors discuss how they don’t outline things and just let the story unfold naturally like a wellspring of crystal-clear word water, bubbling down onto their pages, and to those people I say….

*sticks tongue out and blows a raspberry

I require an outline.

It’s just the way my mind works. Outlines work for me the same way an artist uses line figures to detail the shape a person me be sitting in before filling in the muscle boxes and then layering over muscles, skin, clothing, and so one. An outline is a guide post for me.

Another point of discussion writers who don’t outline will use is they say an outline can be restrictive, keeping you in one lane. You should let your stories evolve naturally, as that makes the character choices feel more real. They’re guiding the story, not some following some map to reach point Z from point A.

Again, to that, I stick my tongue out in the most mature of fashions.

To counter the outline hate, I have two quick stories. Well, one story, and the other is the piece of writing advice I’m going to dissect.

Fist, is how I used to plot my stories/daydreams in class.

Class time proved a great vehicle to travel the story highway when I was younger. A long, designated period of time where I was forced to sit and go nowhere. Restricted to my desk while some dude or dudette lectured me on the importance of the War of 1812.

It was during those times of lull and boredom my imagination went wild. Stories and characters acted of their own will so swiftly, I needed to remember all of it. There wouldn’t be anything too detailed. Rather, just a few beats of the story that I could read back later.

That’s how I think of outlines. Not a detailed map of where to go in exact footsteps, but instead a map of directions. Head northwest for about this-many-miles-ish, then head east for about 20 minutes-ish.

Which leads me to the best piece of creative advice I’ve seen. Mark Rosewater, head designer for the card game Magic the Gathering, has a weekly podcast where he discusses all things Magic-related in his 20+ years of service. One podcast in particular saw him talk about what he does when he’s in a creative slump. The whole thing is worth a listen, but in it he says drawing a line on a piece of paper can help start the creative processes. Just a line can lead a visual artist in a dozen different directions. Suddenly, you have direction and purpose because you have a line to follow.

That’s how I think of outlines.

When I’ve plotted my novels in the past, I most certainly let my characters dictate the story. I imagine what they would do if they were in any given situation. Then, when it comes time to write the novel, I follow the outline, but if something comes up that needs to be shifted, I follow the line, but alter the muscles around it. I’ll change the story if need be, but try to keep it along the line’s path.