To outline, or not to outline? That is the question
To freeball it, or not to freeball it?
To go out, or not to go out?
To kiss de girl, or not kiss de girl?
Outlines. You either love them or you hate them.
I fall into the “I hate you, but I respect your opinions.” category.
So here are some pros, cons, and tips to either dump your needy outline girlfriend, or give your relationship another go.
Outlining is for the organized folk who can handle following a regime (unlike myself).
Structure is first and foremost the biggest pro to writing an outline. It is extremely beneficial if you are not so good at following your own story or if you tend to wander, but also beneficial in helping you plan your novel. A really good outline is several pages long and consists of very detailed specs per chapter, allowing you to fill in the blanks as you write your novel with fluff and stuff (ha, it rhymes). A bare bones outline does the trick as well, with a generalization of how each chapter should flow.
The likelihood of speeding through your novel is increased. The outline lays your life out before you and allows you to tease your readers with your mistress: Foreshadowing.
There is less room for getting stuck. You don’t have to call a tow after you hit an icy patch and instinctively hit the breaks, spirling you into the snow-filled ditch (I know I make a lot of snow/ice jokes in my posts. I’m from Illinois, the cold is our livelihood).
And of course the best selfish reason I could come up with is simple: it helps you decide if your story is worth it. There is nothing more mood killing than coming to the end of your novel and realizing that you just shit on the literary world with your piece of moldy cheese book idea.
This part is a little biased because I dislike outlines with a questionably burning passion.
Outlines hinder your creative abilities. If you decide to go au-natural and freeball like a nudist, then you can dictate what happens next. You can randomly decide “This guy. Right here. Is the killer. Yes.” And you can change the entire progression of your novel. And guess what? Who cares! Ha! The beauty of it all is the complete and utter freedom.
Okay, calm down Courtney. We get it. You like to kill people.
Outlining takes away from the one thing that is limited to everyone: Time. It can take up to several hours to come up with an outline. Plus there are the details that you need to research, which takes lots of time. You can’t be writing a novel from the perspective of a sperm whale and know nothing about it (that’s a bad example. Oh well).
It hinders your ability to move and grow with your characters. You already know what is supposed to happen, so from the beginning you are tailoring your novel to what you already know. Kind of like a placebo effect, if you want to think really hard about how that makes sense. If you just go with the flow then you get to grow up with your character as well, forming a weird bond with a man or woman made of words.
The good thing about an outline is that it can be as detailed or as vague as you like. You can bullshit your characters and names and events as you ride the rollercoaster, or you can have them ready for you when you get to the gate. Although, if you’re going to write an outline you might as well go balls to the wall and put as much detail as you can. Write out each character that your MC encounters, what battles take place (internal and/or otherwise physical), where your MC goes, etc. Detail will be your best friend in that scenario.
Write a character bible. Even if you don’t choose to outline. Keep track of your characters quirks, likes, dislikes, looks, personality, ect. You don’t want to put on page one that your character has blue eyes and blonde hair, and by the end of the book she’s a startling redhead with brown eyes. The character bible is especially helpful when you like to write a million characters into your story and can’t keep track of them (like myself).
Don’t test out the opposing outlining option on a project that you plan on sharing with the class. What I mean by that is; if you typically outline your novels, don’t decide to fart upwind and test your “can I bullshit this novel?” abilities without knowing how to cope with the smell.
I laughed out loud at that reference so I left it, and I know it doesn’t make any sense. So let me try again. If you typically rely on an outline but want to try and just go with it, don’t use a concept that you are really passionate about. Do a short story or something along those lines so you can figure out where your errors might fall and how you should correct them. And that way you can decide if you are the outlining type or not.
At the end of the day, it is your decision as the writer on whether or not you write an outline, I just wanted to share my views on the matter.
Look at that! You made it to the end without rolling your eyes and hitting the back arrow! Yahoo!! You don’t win anything special, honestly. I mean if you reaallly want something, subscribe to our email list where you can get FREE things and exclusive deals and such. Did I mention the word Free? Or you can request a hand-written thank you letter if you email me your address, with “Write to me!” in the subject line, Yeah. So you should do that.
I hope this was useful to you all.
-The Unavoidable, Courtney