There are few issues more divisive in the writing world than that of outlining a manuscript. Proponents often peg writers who don’t as lazy, while non-adherents write the practice off as constrictive to the creative process.
And, as usual, the truth falls somewhere in-between.
Outlining is a fine convention. Writing character biographies and a detailed synopsis helps an author keep the details of his creation straight, allowing him to avoid inconsistencies and plot holes, as well as a certain degree of writer’s block. This helps the writer avoid wasted time and what could be considerable rewriting during the editing phase.
That said, there’s also a valid argument to be made for not using an outline. By rigidly structuring how a story is meant to be before it’s even started, the writer hems himself in. There is far less room to implement a new, possibly better, idea into the manuscript because it may cause a ripple effect that disrupts the remainder of the story’s plot.
So, what is a writer to do?
The answer is actually quite simple: find what works for you.
Some writers need a rigid structure in place to feel comfortable writing in the first place because it takes the guesswork out of the process and keeps all the facts clear and easy to reference. Others have a high capacity for keeping details straight in their heads and execute their best work with a sense of freedom, allowing elements of the story and characters to shape themselves organically (however, it’s fair to say that all who fall into the latter camp should enter the process with a decent sense of their characters and the major plot beats of the story; there’s a big difference between letting instinct shape a work and flying blind).
Both paths are valid, and overlap can even occur on occasion. But the key is to always stick with whichever process gets an author writing to his maximum potential. For better or worse, the quality of the story will speak for itself. And if it speaks ill of the writer, chances are dipping a toe into the other pool might be recommended.