I’ve met a lot of authors with incredible passion for writing, but I’ve talked to relatively few who are passionate outliners. Most of my friends who write see outlines as a chore, or worse, as a restriction on the creative impulses that you need to write a novel. But done correctly, outlining is itself a creative exercise, and one that carries a lot of benefits.
Here are my top 10 reasons to outline your novel:
- Outlining helps you focus. By planning on working through phrasing and dialogue later, you can start with the basics: what do your characters want? Who encounters whom? Who knows what when?
- An outline helps you identify and plan around story obstacles. A good outline can show you where you need to flesh out your back story or plug a plot hole.
- Outlining gives you a chance to gut-check your story. Is your romance so fast it’s far-fetched? Is your climax underwhelming? Outlining lets you take a step back from you ideas and think about how you’ll sell them to the reader.
- An outline will help you pace your novel. Plotting your story can show you if the plot is creeping along slowly or your finale arrives too early.
- An outline prevents rework. By eliminating problems before you write them, an outline can save you a lot of hours of rewriting problematic passages.
- An outline keeps you writing. Having a roadmap for your novel means that once you do start writing, you’ll spend more time typing and less time trying to figure out where you are in your story and where to go next.
- An outline can help you keep track of time or locations. If you’re juggling characters and locations, notes on your outline can help you keep your novel chronologically coherent.
- Outlines let you explore your story faster. Time spent thinking about your story and character arcs is seldom wasted. Even if you change or discard your outline, you’ll have done a lot of creative exploration in a fraction of the time it would take to write.
- Outlining gives you a framework for your novel. Asking the big questions about your story and jotting down answers in a structured format gives you a foundation to build your novel on. That goes doubly so if you use a tool like Scrivener (available for PC and Mac), which lets you expand your outline by writing your novel inside it.
- Outlining can be fun. Outlining is hard at times — it requires you to think through the tough parts of your story. But thinking about your plot in such a malleable format can also be fun, and get you really excited about writing you story.
Do you outline your stories before you write? Have you noticed any benefits I missed? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.
Next up, I’ll cover how I create my outlines in Scrivener.