Novel outlines come in many shapes and sizes. Many writers outline differently, or they don’t outline at all. So, how do you choose if writing a novel outline is right for you? Keep reading to learn the pros and cons of outlining your novels.
What Is A Novel Outline?
Some of you might be reading this and thinking, “ugh. Outlines. I’m a pantser.” And guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that. Planners and pantsers are excellent writers who work just as hard on their books.
But we all write novel outlines in some form.
A novel outline is a document or notebook with essential notes and planning information about your manuscript.
Many people think of a novel outline and the planning stage of the creative writing process. However, outlines don’t need to be structured. They don’t need to be in order. They can be a list of characters, events written down as they happen in the story, or a basic list of ideas.
Outlines can be written and rewritten throughout the writing process. But, for the sake of this article, we’ll focus on whether you should outline your novel before writing the first draft.
What Should Your Novel Outline Include?
Before we begin, let’s quickly go over what your novel outline should include. If you’re planning on creating a timeline or massive list of events and characters, there are some aspects you’ll need to have.
First, ask yourself these questions:
- What is the main idea of the story? How will it be resolved by the end?
- What’s the timing of your novel? (Where it takes place and how much time passes from the beginning to the end.)
- What are the stakes of the plot? (Why does your character need to go through this?)
These questions will help you think more deeply about the overall “why” of your story. For example, why does this story need to be told? Why would people be interested in reading your characters’ journey?
You’ll also want to include the following:
- Plot (Beginning, Middle, and End)
- Any subplots
- Main events (that will carry the characters through the plot)
Do you need to go in-depth with all of these components? No, not necessarily. Only write down as much information as you feel you need.
Depending on the outlining method, you’ll write this information down in various ways.
Pros Of Creating A Novel Outline
I’m a planner. I don’t write outlines in the same way I used to. I also don’t outline the same way for every novel. But I do outline in some way or another. I think there are many great things to writing a novel outline, so let’s go over a few reasons why.
Plotholes Are Easier To Avoid
Plotholes are pesky. If you’ve spent months writing draft after draft of your novel, and then you find a plothole in the middle of chapter 18. How do you fix it?
You can go about it many ways, but it’s an extra step. Some plotholes are more accessible to fix than others.
As soon as you find an inconsistency, you’ll need to go back into the novel to see where that inconsistency began.
If you have a novel outline, the scenes, and chapters will be mapped out. If you come across a plothole, it’ll be easier for you to fix it.
You’re Least Likely To Get Writer’s Block
A novel outline can be as detailed or basic as you want or need it to be. Regardless, with a novel outline, you’re least likely to get stuck during your writing sessions.
When you stop writing for the day, you’ll be able to refer to your outline the next day to remember where you left off. Alternatively, you can get your outline to see where you want to go next.
Do you need to follow your novel outline to a T? No, not at all. A novel outline is more like a guideline than a set of rules.
That said, it’s nice to have that guideline as a backup in case you get writer’s block.
Organizes The Beginning, Middle, And End
A huge piece of writing advice that many people say is, “show, don’t tell.” An outline allows you to visualize your novel. You can mark plot points, events, scenes, chapters, characters, settings, and everything.
You’ll also know how you want the novel to begin, what should happen in the middle, and where you want your end goal.
This helps you avoid the sagging middle. It’ll also help you set up the novel with a clear beginning and figure out your ending.
Cons Of Creating A Novel Outline
Of course, when there are pros, there are also cons. So, let’s go over why you might not want to outline your novel.
Creative Direction Is Taken Away
This con is a gray area. On the one hand, if you write an outline, you’ll lose creativity while writing the novel. But, on the other hand, you’re the one who wrote the outline, so you can utilize all the creativity you want.
As I mentioned, outlines are more like a guideline than a set of rules. So, if you come up with a new idea while writing, you can simply write it. You don’t need to follow your outline.
However, if you do that, you’ll need to update your outline. That different idea will snowball throughout the rest of the story. Therefore, the rest of your outline will need updating.
While this isn’t a big deal, it is an extra step.
The Pacing May Be Off
If you are one of those writers who follow their outlines to a T, your writing is an obvious formula.
What I mean by this is that your pacing might need to be faster or faster. Without the clear direction, a novel outline can give, it’ll be easy to keep writing yourself into a hole.
If you don’t know where to go next, you may have a lot of filler content. On the other hand, if you don’t consider time and pacing, you might get through the plot quicker than you think.
Writing A Novel Outline: How Do You Do It?
Whether you decide to outline or not, it’s entirely up to you. There’s no right or wrong answer. For example, you may not outline for one project and then decide you need one for the next. There are many outlining methods, as well, which we’ll discuss in the coming weeks.
- Podcast Episode: How Do You Deal With Sagging Middle Syndrome?
- Podcast Episode: How Important Is Pacing In A Novel?
Rachel Poli is an indie author, podcaster, and content writer working on her debut cozy mystery novel.
Although she favors mystery, Rachel is a multi-genre author with too many ideas and characters in her head, often experimenting with short stories and flash fiction.
When she’s not writing, she’s reading, organizing something, or playing video games. She currently resides in New England with her zoo.