During the past couple of months, several members of my online critique group have decided to go back and rethink their stories. And as part of that rethinking, they’ve submitted their revised story outlines to the group for feedback. This strategy makes sense, since it’s always better to catch fatal flaws in a story before a writer dives too deeply into their manuscript.
I know some of you out there are pantsers who disdain outlines, but I find them a good way of keeping my stories from falling off the rails. Outlines don’t have to be super specific—just enough to remind you where you’re going. I consider myself a heavy plotter, but experience has taught me my best ideas don’t occur to me until I write, which means I’m constantly going back and revising the outline—even when I'm nearing the final chapters! Whatever works, I suppose.
As far as my crit group is concerned, I’ve resisted the urge to submit any sort of outline. For one thing, my outline is in a continual state of flux, so there’s not much point in having others review it. But more importantly, I prefer my critique partners to read my chapters without any clue about what’s going to happen next. I don’t want their knowledge of the story to color their opinions.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from critiques of my early chapters, it’s that when I do a poor job of leading the reader through the story, my critique partners tend to arrive at all sorts of erroneous (and often surprising) conclusions as to what really happened in the scene—conclusions that may not have occurred to them had they already known where the story was heading. In other words, if I'd given them knowledge a first time reader wouldn’t have access to, then I might have missed learning of these problems.
I want—no, I need—my critique partners to work under the same conditions that a first time reader would.
What about you? Do you let your crit partners know where the story is going ahead of time, or do you keep them in the dark as much as possible?