I belong to several Yahoo! groups devoted to a number of different subjects. In one of the these groups, somebody posed a question to the writers in the group, asking them how they approached a project. Did they work from a detailed outline or did they wing it?
I've tried both, and I have found I prefer flying by the seat of my pants. When working from an outline, I found that my work was forced, the events as they unfolded seemed contrived, and the characters stiff. No matter how real they were in my mind, the rigidity with which I was approaching the project left no room for straying. I had an outline and I didn't budge from it. I was working towards a goal, forcing characters to behave and respond in certain ways in order to reach the intended finale I had in mind. What I ended up with was crap.
When I approach a project now, I have a general idea in my head about what the story is going to be. Before I start writing, I create brief character sketches, complete with physical descriptions and biographies. With that in hand, I begin my project. With the loosely conceived idea, I find I have more freedom to create, events arise more naturally as the story progresses, and the characters speak and react in a more realistic manner. The characters take over and its like they are telling me what needs to happen and where the story needs to go. I find myself quite often straying from the original story line I had conceived, with events arising that I had never originally thought of. This rarely happened when I worked from an outline; I knew what the story was supposed to be and I knew better than the characters. They needed to shut the hell up and let me write. After all, I had created them; I knew what was best for them. How wrong I was. Now I treat my characters life E.F. Hutton. . . You know the commercial. . . "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen." When my characters try to speak to me, I stop what I'm doing, let them take over, and sit back and enjoy the ride.
If you're a writer reading this, I'd be interested to hear how you approach a project.