Outlining: Your Novel’s Road Map

On Monday, I gave out a list of links for people who don’t really enjoy outlining but are willing to give it a try. Today I’m going to explain why you should.

For all authors, creativity is the crux of writing. Without that initial spark of an idea, you have no story idea, nothing to build off of. It’s how you take an idea that may seem generic, and turn it into something that is beautiful, one of a kind.

For some authors, writing can only happen when they feel in the mood. These pantsers need to be swept up by the story, and to do that, they must know absolutely nothing about what happens next. They rely on that feeling of mystery and intrigue that readers feel when reading.

I know how it works, because for the longest time, I was a pantser too. Outlines were Enemy Number 1. How did I include the heartbreak and suspense if I knew what was going to happen? If a reader knows that a character is going to die, presumably, they wouldn’t be willing to get so attached to that character. And even if they could, surely, when the death happened, they would not feel so emotionally distraught.

For pantsers, this translates into how we write. How can we write in a way that’ll make readers emotionally attached when we know what’s going to happen to these characters later in the novels? How can we add suspense and intrigue if we know what’s going to happen and do not feel that suspense and intrigue ourselves?

As a panster, I never got past the first draft of a story idea. Once I knew what the story was about, I lost my creative spark. Dire Fate, my current novel, is the first book I’ve ever gotten past the first draft on, and in hindsight… I wish I’d planned it out before I started. Especially for the first three finished drafts, each one was almost completely different than the last. The story was a tangled mess as, midway through each draft, I’d change my mind about how I wanted the plot to go.

Now that I do know where the story is heading, I’ve found out that I rely on knowing what happens. Outlining can save you a lot of time and headache in the long run, because it is essentially just a really basic first draft. You don’t outline with the belief that this is exactly how your story is going to go. Outlines are just there to help you flesh out your idea and make sure that there’s enough substance to your story to actually try to make a full novel out of it. And if you’re writing a series, it’s a good idea to have the overall arcs laid out so that you can make sure you have all the tools you’ll need in the final climax.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, pantsing often involves waiting for the muse to show up. But most often when the muse doesn’t show up (aka writer’s block), it’s because we don’t know where we’re trying to go or what we’re trying to say. What I’ve found is that an outline, even if it’s just the most basic skeleton of one, can help remind you of that. It’s a map, and knowing where you’ll have to make pit stops can go a long way towards making sure you don’t run out of gas before you reach your destination.

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