For a while now I've been trying to figure out whether I'm the kind of writer that works well with an outline, or better without one. After a dozen or so stories I still can't tell.
The problem is, while I tend to stay more focused if I start with an outline written out, I almost always wander off before the end of chapter one. One chapter is enough for me to realize the structure of my story - as represented in that outline - might be correct, but is still completely inadequate for actually guiding what I write. I still stare at the most recent scene break and wonder what the hell I'm supposed to write next to bridge the gap between point A and point B, even if A and B are in the same chapter and I know exactly what they're supposed to be. As I get farther into the story, this gets worse; most of the content ends up being completely off-the-cuff, though it still ends up hitting all the proper points laid out in my outline, just not the way I originally envisioned it.
The outline, I guess, ends up showing me how much I don't know about what's going to happen, when initially I thought it was supposed to do the opposite. Was this a problem with the way I was looking at outlining as a tool, or is this just one of those things that happens to writers - what they call "the story taking on a life of its own," even though I consider that a completely different phenomenon? Because I'm not talking about the plot changing on me, per se, or characterization changing, which is how I've always interpreted that phrase; I'm saying none of that was in the outline to begin with, even though my page of bullet points covers all of those things that are supposed to be Plot. And they are the plot. But they're apparently not the meat of the story.
It's possible I still do not understand what a plot is. I wouldn't be surprised.
However, there have been stories where, when faced with this problem, I created scene-by-scene outlines as I went along, so I knew were I was going to achieve my chapter goals. That helped me a lot when I was still writing the Summer Chronicle, which grew a sprawling plot I was completely unprepared for. There were so many things I wanted to do, so many events and conversations to cover, that I started each chapter with a mini outline.
Maybe I should do that more often. That would indicate I work well with thorough, even exhaustive, outlining.
On the other hand, I have also experienced that awful feeling of dead inspiration after writing an outline - I realize I don't really need to write the story once it's done, because I got it out on paper. (Or-- is it that the story never needed to be written and wouldn't have worked, and that dying inspiration is actually my subconscious editor telling me it can't work? Who knows. I've gotten used to not listening to that editor because she's a bitch. You really have no idea. If I said half the things I think, about my own stuff and other people... :D)
The Summer Chronicle is an interesting example for me, actually, because it's a work of fan fiction that forced me to create a lot, and so in a way I feel it straddles the line between purely fic and original, simply because it made me work as hard as I believe I should for every story - which I don't often do for fan fiction. I was so motivated to work on it, though; I still haven't figured out how to replicate that motivation for anything else. What made me want to think about it so much, so hard, so often? I don't feel motivated to think about other stories 24/7, which really is how often and deeply I thought about SC for most of its life, and so when I work on my outlines or start my chapters, I just... do not have the level of detail mentally worked out that I require for writing scene-by-scene outlines.
I think this may be a by-product of my tendency to create character types I like, but neglect to actually develop them before I write. So in short, it's still a characterization problem. I look at something like Rule Number One, realize I actually put some effort into creating a voice for Marcia, and see that I do not often do the same for original characters. Having that voice is a big step toward knowing how said character will react, which is kinda sorta key in deciding how a scene will play out, am I right?
Hahahasigh. But thankfully I can't blame it all on not knowing anything about characterization - when I'm starting a new story I haven't hammered out setting either, sometimes. The answer is probably that I need to do more of that preliminary work than I have actually been doing, and it makes sense I wouldn't realize that at first when fan fiction doesn't require that step most of the time.
So, what do the rest of you do? Do you like outlines? Need them? Hate them? I used to consider them a stupid restriction, and now writing without them makes me cry.