Three Arguments for Outlining


Well, summer is here. I am taking a break from my current novel while it’s out being read by a few friends. It’s nice to step away from it for awhile, and I know this will refresh me to dig into more revising when they send it back. In the meantime, I am jumping into another project to clear my head and get the creative juices flowing again.


A new project has spurred me to thinking about outlining again. As I am preparing to write another novel, I am evaluating my planning process and there are a few improvements I want to make from last time. With my previous novel, I wrote out a synopsis in a few pages, then broke it up into scenes and called it good. That was fine, but this go round, I want to try a grid outline with chapter divisions, timelines, progression of plot points, etc. I was inspired to do this by this collection of famous author outlines. Even the greatest had to plan ahead!

Here are three reasons I have decided to outline my next novel:

1) To See What Doesn’t Work. It sounds obvious, but it’s so much easier to catch problems early when you craft a bird’s-eye view. It’s far simpler to erase a couple of notes than comb through an entire manuscript trying to root out a subplot you don’t like that is now sprinkled everywhere.

2) For Sanity. It was a huge time-waster for me this last time to read back through my drafts, trying to remember how long ago I mentioned this particular person, or if my heroine and her father had actually discussed XYZ in that scene. Did I give the horse a name? Did I already mention the affect that poison has on the human body? Almost all of these could have been solved with a detailed outline.

3) For Measurable Goal Achievement. When you’re working through an outline, it is even more clear to see how far you’ve come and how far you have to go. I knew roughly how many words I wanted my last novel to be, and I knew how many scenes I had written, but there was a lot of squishiness in there. An outline would have helped me firm up my goals more.

But what about organic creativity in the writing process?!

This is a very legitimate question, and there are many writers, great ones in fact, who walk through the writing process without an outline, or at least a very minimal one. Still, I have a strong suspicion that, still being a novice writer, an outline will actually free me to be more creative, because I will know the direction my proverbial ship is already sailing, and where I want to dock in the end.

We’ll see. I’ll let you know how that works out.

In other news, I am a Veronica Roth fan (author of the Divergent trilogy, you know) and she has a terrific list of posts on her blog that she wrote several years ago on writing. They are insightful, funny and helpful, and I find them even more valuable because she wrote them before she was “flashy and famous.” This really has nothing to do with outlining, but I get excited when I discover a writing treasure trove, so here you go!

Any thoughts on outlining? Do you outline before you launch into writing your drafts? How has it helped or hindered you in your writing process?




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s