Most novelists fall within two categories on the topic of developing a written outline: plotter or pantser. Plotters prepare outlines that could range from a synopsis or overview of the book to a detailed scene-by-scene list. Some do both. Pantsers, as the term suggests, fly by the seat of their pants. They believe too much advance planning kills creativity and stymies the wonderful discoveries writers make during the writing process.
Regardless of where you fall on the plotter-pantser spectrum, there is some merit in preparing a written outline. Outlining is a complex topic. I will break this topic into two posts. This post will cover “why” to prepare an outline and the second post will discuss “how” to do it.
An outline is simply a written plan for your story. Think of it as your roadmap. You wouldn’t hop in the car and drive to a place you’ve never visited without obtaining a set of directions. Think of your outline as your directions to help you reach your destination—a finished novel.
A solid written outline:
liForces the writer to think through the events of the story with a goal of creating a cohesive plot and structure./li
liKeeps the writer focused on the larger issues of theme and story progression/li
liPrevents the writer from going down blind alleys or off on tangents that don’t relate to the story./li
liIdentifies gaps and weaknesses in the story that the writer must address before sitting down to write./li
liTells the writer whether there is enough structure behind the story to sustain a novel./li
liReduces the amount of time the writer will later spend editing the story./li
liAllows the writer to identify the relationship among the characters, their development, how they will interact, and their strengths and weaknesses./li
The most important reason to outline, in my opinion, is that it provides the foundation on which your story is built. Without a solid foundation, your story will collapse.
Many experts don’t believe in written outlines. Stephen King, in his book, ema title=On Writing href=http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Stephen-King/dp/0743455967On Writing/a, /emwrote he does not believe in outlines, preferring to discover the story as he writes it. “I lean more heavily on intuition, and have been able to do that because my books tend to be based on situation rather than story,” he wrote. “Some of the ideas which have produced these books are more complex than others, but the majority start out with the simplicity of a department store window display or a waxwork tableau.”
I am more of a “pantser,” but experience has taught me the value of a written outline. Before I start writing, I prepare a barebones outline with about a dozen milestone plot developments. These don’t always follow the classic story arc: describe protagonist in her world, make her goal clear, create an inciting incident, throw in a complication, increase the stakes through rising action, build to the climax and resolve the main character’s dilemma. My outlines tend to follow the major events of the story. I know writers who prepare detailed outlines that go on for many pages. I’ve seen outlining methods that go on for many pages. Next, I will describe some of the outlining techniques available.
strongDo you believe in written outlines? Are you a plotter or a pantser?/strong