November 6, 2012

Outlining

If you’ve ever read a site or book about how to write a novel (or anything longer than a couple of paragraphs), you’ll have been told to outline.

So what is an outline?

You know, that depends on who you ask. It could be a simple disposition with chapter titles and a few sub-headings, or it is a crazy deep index card system that basically tells the whole story. None of those are wrong, nor is whatever method of outlining you might be subscribing to.

There are no rules for how you are supposed to write a book.

Again: There really are no rules.

I find it interesting that so many writers claim otherwise, implying that any way but theirs that succeeds is a freak of nature. Then again most writers that stick to this notion have less to brag about, so there you go.

There are two main purposes to spend time outlining the way I see it.

  1. To organize your story into chunks that you can write.
  2. To figure out if your story’s plot will hold.

Organizing your plot will give you clear goals to complete and will help you keep track of where in your story you are. This is more important than one might think as it is easy to get lost.

Figuring out if the plot and all its threads holds true across the book is very valuable since it might save you the time of writing a first draft that just doesn’t work. Sure, you might be able to revise it a couple of times, making it work in the end, but proper outlining might’ve pointed you to the holes in the story right away.

So the outline helps you organize both your story and your writing, as well as find holes and irregularities in your plot.

Your outline has one other important function: It will introduce you to the supporting cast. Most likely you know the main cast already, but all other characters might not be so well thought out. The outline will introduce the supporting characters, and not only plant their personalities and trait in your mind, but also open up a whole range of new possibilities for your story through their existence.

The million dollar question then: Should you outline?

Yes, you should.

Unless you don’t want to, of course. After all, it is about you and your process, and although reason points to outlining properly, that just might not be your thing. You need to find your way of writing. That’s a lot more important than what know-it-all’s will tell you.

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.