I was just listening to episode 4 of Larry Correia’s podcast on writing. The episode was called “Outlining vs Discovery” and it was exactly what I’ve been working on in my own writing. Discovery is also called “seat of the pants” writing. That’s where you just start writing and stop when you reach the end. And that’s what I usually use. The danger is that you can either paint yourself in a corner or meander off into the middle of nowhere. Outlining is exactly what it sounds like. That’s where you take an idea for a story and then develop it into a story with a beginning middle and end. And depending on how detailed you want to get it may include a number of the characters, sub-plots and even important scenes.
Larry and his podcast partner Steve Diamond represent the opposite sides in this dichotomy. Larry is an outliner and Steve discovers. But listening to both of them describe how each gets around the weaknesses of each of these two methods gives a better understanding to the listener about how both methods are used by every writer. Basically no matter how much outlining you do it’s while you’re actually writing the story that “discovering” the true nature of your protagonist emerges. And even if you think that you’re not outlining at all, the back of your mind is filling in that outline for you. You may not know where the story is going but your subconscious does.
But it is true that every writer is one kind of these two kinds. I’m a discovery writer but I’ve decided that I want to provide an outline for my stories going forward. That way if the story decides on its own to deviate from the outline I’ll know it’s meant to be. It’ll be my unconscious mind dope-slapping my conscious mind. And that I’m used to.