Of all the tools and techniques for writers that I have written or spoken about, the outline gets the most resistance. Students, bloggers, aspiring writers and tweetmates argue “I like to write by the seat of my pants” or “I can’t use an outline.”
But I have yet to find a professional writer, one who has been published and earned a living from it, who objects to outlines.
Remember, you’re writing your outline on paper or a computer, not carving it in stone. You can change it after you write it. The idea is to get all your ideas onto paper (or screen). Then you can move them around, change them, add some, take others out—whatever makes sense to you.
Once it’s written down, the outline will show you the logic of your argument, proposal or story—or the lack of it. An invisible outline, one that’s only in your head, just doesn’t make these errors visible.
Don’t like the order? Change it! Even after you start writing the draft, you can change the order of ideas. It’s your work, after all.
I do this all the time, with every document. In fact, I did it with this blog post. I jotted down a scratch outline of words, short phrases and the occasional full sentence. I thought about my outline, moved some ideas around, then started adding words to turn those phrases into full sentences and paragraphs. Even while I was writing these paragraphs, I reordered the ideas and moved a couple of paragraphs around.
I cannot imagine writing something as long as a novel without an outline. How else can you make sure you get your hero from the introduction to the conclusion without skipping over something important? Especially with the current trend to non-linear storytelling, where the plot is not chronological but rather thematic, I cannot see how anyone could tell a coherent story without following an outline. There’s just no way to make sure you’ve covered everything you have to cover.
I know this is still going to raise some objections, and I invite you to argue with me. You know you want to. Yes, you do!
Post your objections or different perspective in the Comment box. Tell me about your outline.
And you “pantsers” out there: tell me all about your novel written without the outline. How long did it take you?
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