Often, aspiring writers question what is the best form to use for writing a novel or really, any work. Many renowned authors tell novice writers to use an outline. There are many positive aspects to this way of getting started, one of the most beneficial being keeping the writer on track and helping to maintain focus. Points are set out to be covered, places to introduce which characters keyed in, and details about characters and overall plot can be followed so that one maintains a presentable flow to the piece of writing. This type of structure can be as rigid as you would like, or as flexible as you feel you might need as your work progresses. Many authors do this with writing longer works to avoid going off on tangents.
For shorter pieces such as essays or short stories, some rely on the tried and true “5 paragraph essay” taught in grammar and high schools. Paragraph one is the introduction with a thesis and some inkling of what is to come. Paragraphs two, three, and four are the main talking points with as much illustration and as many examples as needed to get the point, moral, etc. of the essay/short story across. And paragraph five is the wrap-up or summary. This method is helpful if you are writing a journalistic piece or a how-to article. I, personally, find this method too rote and verging on being boring and dry (if not already). As an English instructor in college, I did not use this method for fear of driving away students with dull and less than creative writing for class. I preferred more than a 5 paragraph essay in that it gave the students room to explore and branch out in their writing assignments. Likewise, some students could wrap everything up in two or three paragraphs. It depended on the individual writer/student.
Another method of getting words and thoughts on paper is Free Writing. Maybe the most written down to follow is the first paragraph that will tease and grab the reader with maybe a character or two and an elusive plot laid out. The rest? Free writing. Use a chosen character and let she/he develop and interact with others, weaving your plot around these encounters and interactions. Free writing allows freedom of characters and also some fun plot twists you didn’t realize were available to you until you kept working your story and characters. This, however, means staying with it and in it until you definitely have an idea of where you are going with your piece.
So what should you do? If you need structure and definite direction, go for the outline. It can reassure you that you are following your chosen path and you can check off items in your outline as they are brought into your writing. The outline should work well for you and give you a sense of accomplishment and completion.
Free writing will leave you exploring and up in the air most of the time. It requires more self-discipline and tenacity as you are coming up with stuff all of the time. It requires constant editing and re-reading to make sure it flows and you are aiming toward a goal now with all your twists and turns and characters interacting.
So what is your best bet? If you aren’t tied to form and structure or determined to free wheel it, combine the two. Rough out what you want, leaving plenty of room to add details, characters, twists. Then have fun bringing all of it together in your own unique way, allowing yourself the freedom to change your mind, introduce more characters or kill off some you might be bored with, and exercise some creative license.
Remember, there is no ONE RIGHT WAY in writing your novel, prose, essay, or short story. Play around with what works best for you. Personally, I get frustrated with an outline as I see myself straying from it and going down another path. But friends who are great poets and writers use outlines all the time and flourish with this method. It is up to you and what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to try one, another, or a combination. It only matters that you get it on the page!
Go for it!
Judy Kukuruza’s book “One Body, Many Souls” can be found on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2FuA241; Their website is at https://onebodymanysouls.com/. Their blog is at https://wolvescrowsandspirituality.home.blog.