Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pros and Cons of Outlining Your Novel

Generally writers work between two constructs when working on their novels - to outline or not. 

Outliners tend to put down on paper the entire novel, plotting out all the details, where and when and who the characters are that will come in at appropriate times. 

Non-outliners tend to go on their way taking each day as it comes and putting in characters as they 'appear' in their minds. The first thing to understand is neither way is 'right', but instead outlining is more of a preference. 

The biggest thing to recognize is that at some point you will need to plot, but plotting can happen before you begin to write, during the writing project, or even after you think you've got it all down. 

So now, the pros and cons:

Pros of outlining:
1. You have an idea of what you will be writing at each sitting.
2. Outlining helps create balance in your narrative - you will be less likely to go off on a tangent that will later be scraped.
3. Characters are developed before work begins so they are more consistent throughout the narrative.
4. Fewer plot holes that will need to be found and fixed in the final draft.

Cons of outlining:
1. Commitment to your outline can mean that when opportunity arrives to divert you may be less likely to do so.
2. For some, outlining and then writing means writing short - fewer words or concise thoughts do not necessarily make for a good read.
3. Scenes can sometimes seem flat.

Pros of non-outlining:
1. You will have the freedom to be creative.
2. There is something to be said about be surprised in where the story is going - it creates enthusiasm to sit down and work.
3. When it comes time to re-write you may have more to work with as plot and subplots may be many.
4. Characters can be added easily.

Cons of non-outlining:
1. As you write, because you do not have a clear picture of where you are going, you may find you write yourself into a corner.
2. When it is time to plot, you may find some holes that will need to be fixed.
3. Uneven storytelling.

Yes, there are pros and cons, but the good news is, you can also combine the two. Outline a bit, be flexible and find yourself between the two.  Good luck.

D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction and co-author of a Young Adult Science Fiction Series. Her latest book, Solem was released February 2016.

D. Jean loves to tell stories of personal growth – where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is also the author of the novels: Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole, and Perception, and the co-author of The Exodus Series: The Water Planet: Book 1 and House of Glass: Book 2. The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City.                                                                                             
She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha!


Anne Duguid Knol said...

I have been thinking about this a lot this month as I am pushing to do first draft of next novella. I am definitely in the dual camp. I need an outline to keep me on track but I do a tiny summary per chapter which leaves the freedom to create within each section.

Karen Cioffi said...

Jean, great post. I'm a pantser. But, that's for children's books to middle grade. I've even had a couple of ghosting clients who have asked for an outline of what I intended - I had to tell them I don't work like that.
I haven't written a novel yet though, so for that I might have to do some outlining. Maybe one day I'll find out! :)

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Jean, we usually see articles like this that advocate for one side or the other. Each of us works differently, but it really helps to have this outlined so succinctly. And congratulations on your new novel!

Helen Henderson said...

Great post. I love the pros and cons given for both sides without criticism. For novels, I outline at the beginning but go exploring by the end. For novellas and short stories, the pre-plotting is in my subconscious. Thanks for pointing out what to watch for. And congratulations on your new work.

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