May 13, 2010

To Outline or Not to Outline – That is the Question by Tom Weston

To Outline or Not to Outline – That is the Question

I read another writer’s opinion regarding the necessity of the outline – whether it was an asset or a hindrance to the creative process. This particular writer was of the opinion that it was a hindrance to his art; that he preferred a less structured approach which allowed him to express himself freely, that his art came from that freedom – and let the chips (and the story) fall as they may.

Well maybe I don’t have that level of confidence, but I have to say my style is the complete opposite. It may stem from my earlier work as a computer systems professional, where we had to be sure of the finished product before we began, and where mistakes were costly. It meant that before any code was written, the aims of the project were analyzed, and the process of getting from A to B was mapped out in ever increasing levels of detail. This approach, I bring to my work as a writer.

But, the argument goes, eventually one has to sit down and write – To get on with it - So why waste time and energy on an outline, when it could be applied to the real task. The answer is that the process, for me at least, is iterative – nothing is wasted. I’ve been asked whether I know the ending of a story before I start, and the answer is a categorical ‘yes’. If I don’t have an end in mind, then I don’t have a story to tell. So for me the process begins with knowing what my objectives are and then building the system (or novel) that meets those objectives.

On the face of it, my approach sounds rather mechanical, and it is easy to be swayed by the arguments that this approach stifles creativity and is redundant, but the arguments, for reasons I’ll expand on in the next segment, are fallacious.



Originally from England, Tom now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. Before turning his hand to fiction, Tom had a successful career as the CEO of a consulting company, conference speaker and writer of industry articles and business books. His novel, First Night, set in Boston during the New Year’s Eve festival, introduced the unlikely heroines, Alex and Jackie, and the ghost of a 17th century Puritan named Sarah Pemberton.

First Night won an Honorable Mention in the Middle-Grade/Young Adult category, in the Writers Digest 17th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards. The sequel to First Night, called The Elf of Luxembourg, was published in January, 2010. As with First Night, The Elf of Luxembourg is also a supernatural mystery, with a blend of humor and history that has become Tom’s trademark.

Tom is currently working on Book 3 of the Alex and Jackie Adventures, and is researching the background material for the story, which will be set in Ireland. Tom has also written the screenplay, Fission, based on the true story of scientist, Lisa Meitner, and the race for the atomic bomb, and which was named a finalist at the London Independent Film Festival.

1 comment:

  1. Hi JM,

    Thanks for giving me a platform from which to vent. The alternative is a soap box in Speaker's Corner in London's Hyde Park.