So I love outlining. I really, really love outlining. Except when I don’t.
Here’s what I mean:
Outlining is great because…
When I outline, I know exactly where I’m going. The outline provides a roadmap for the story—particularly, the plot (as opposed to the characters or theme)—and that map keeps me from wandering around, lost and typing aimlessly while I try to sort out where to go next.
So many writers tell me that they never finish a project, and I always advise they give outlining a try. And outline doesn’t have to be stuck to 100%– it’s your outline, after all, and if halfway through the book you decide you want to try something new, you can walk away—knowing that you can always return to the outline if you feel you’re veering too far off course.
Plus, changing, adding, or removing scenes in an outline is relatively painless. Rather than losing two months and twenty thousand words worth of work, you can delete a single sentence and get an idea of how your book will look without that cluster of scenes. You can try something new and crazy and see how it makes the project feel; after all, it’s just a few sentences rather than a few chapters, right?
More than anything, though, and outline reminds you that you do have a book idea. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and if you get stuck, you can look at that outline and say NOT TODAY, WRITER’S BLOCK. THE GLORIOUS OUTLINE SAYS KISSING COMES NEXT.*
But…sometimes outlining doesn’t work because:
Outlining is a very analytical way of looking at a book. You’re breaking the language and characters and plots and subplots down into bite-sized quantities, and sometimes that results in a book that feels…well. Like an outline. Analytical.
Outlining can be especially hard on characters. It’s usually pretty easy to look at how the plot moves point to point, but characters? Can you even draw a direct line between your own emotions, likes, dislikes, and opinions? People are complex, and so good characters are too. Complex people are hard to outline!
My advice? Know you’re only outlining the plot. Know your characters will grow and change on their own, and allow your plot—and your outline—to morph accordingly.
Like I said: I love outlining. I think everyone should try it at least a handful of times, just to see if it works for them. But it’s a tool, and you’ve got to use it as such—and just like how you wouldn’t use a hammer to saw a table in half, I wouldn’t use an outline to sort out my character development.
*Kissing basically always comes next in my book.
She has published several titles including the Fairytale Retellings Series.