To Outline, or Not To Outline?

To Outline, or Not To Outline?

Outlining isn’t a universal first step, but since this is my first book I decided to try an outline to see if it would be helpful to me. I spent about a year on this step, and now that I’ve moved on to the next Phase here are my thoughts on the outlining process:

  • Taking a year to just think about the characters, the setting, the plot, etc. was very helpful. Now that I’m doing the work of writing the story, I have a good foundation laid in my mind. I’m not super imaginative, so I needed this world to be real to me before I could make it real to anyone else.
  • I’m finding myself revising my outline constantly. The story doesn’t unfold exactly as I expected it to; this could be because I’m inexperienced as a novelist, or because the story evolves naturally over time on its own. Maybe a little of both, but as I make adjustments to the story, I have to update the outline so that I still know how to get where I’m going. It’s kind of a pain.
  • The outline gives me a good synopsis. Theoretically, this could be a good summary to give someone who is interested in the story, but I find myself protecting it. Whenever anyone asks me what my book is about, I give them a very vague overview. Am I afraid to be more open because they might think my book sounds stupid, or am I afraid they’ll steal my idea and run off and write the book themselves? No. I think it’s more that I don’t want to give it all away before the book is finished, because then it won’t be new to them when they pick it up for the first time. I love the thrill of a new story, and I don’t want to ruin that for anyone.
  • Outlining provides a framework, but it’s not an end in itself. When I finished my outline, I had this false sense of accomplishment, as if my book was already completed and all I had to do was write it down. In reality, there are thousands of details, lines of dialogue and situational considerations that the outline can’t touch. The book isn’t mostly written when the outline is finished; it’s really just ready to begin. Making an outline did not prepare me for the difficulty of writing a book — it’s a lot more challenging than I ever expected!

So, would I recommend outlining? Yes, absolutely. I intend to outline every book I write; for me, it’s an essential step for two main reasons: my story won’t wander aimlessly because I’ll know where I’m going, and I’ll have a chance to soak in that world before committing it to paper. If outlining isn’t your thing, that’s okay. But you should definitely have the end in mind before you start writing. I’m not just talking about the resolution of the plot; I’m talking about the message you’re sending.

Like it or not, every time you put a book down, it leaves you with something. A book is a commentary on life, among other things, and it will leave the reader with a sense of . . . what? Think about the message you want to send, and make sure your story will reflect that message, whether subtly or overtly. If you don’t know where you’re going, and why you’re going there, you’ll never arrive. In fact, you’ll probably never finish writing your book, and if you do, it will lack conviction.

My outline is my roadmap, and while it may change as I write, I dare not cast it aside and forge my own trail, in disregard of my destination. Who knows where I would end up?

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