This isn’t as complicated as it sounds. There’s more benefits than disadvantages to outlining if you’re disciplined enough. Outlines come in various forms. When building your story skeleton, it’s not about connecting dots. It’s more like knowing what colors you’re working with before you sit down to paint. You can paint whatever you want, but you only have those certain colors in front of you with which to do it. That doesn’t mean you can’t paint a cat, it might just be purple or green rather than the originally intended calico. The biggest benefit I’ve sorted out is that outlining is a major time-saving tactic.
Left or Right or Both
Outlining doesn’t feel natural to everyone because it’s oriented to the left side of the brain. During the writing process, the entire brain is used so it’s critical to understand how to use both parts. Conception of the idea largely involves the right side of your brain. I personally excel at ideating but when it comes to initiating and exacting my ideas, I usually fall short. Too often, I feel overwhelmed at the enormity of my idea or a new idea hits me. Then, I move one to a new idea.
This is where outlining comes in. Ideas are no good if you don’t act on them. When you finish outlining, you actually get to write! That’s the creative reward for putting myself through outlining, despite how much I may or may not want to do it. Writing means putting flesh on my story’s skeleton. Then comes the grunt work to ensure your idea really shines. It’s another left-brained task suited to those methodical, detail-oriented types–revising. Revising another’s work is almost enjoyable for me. I often find myself declutter their narrative and getting a sneak peek at their creative process. When it comes to your own work, if revising makes you cringe, I’d outsource this to friends or family.
The overall benefits encompass a few aspects. I don’t need to be sold on why I should outline, but maybe these advantages will convince those of you still reluctant to outline.
- Outlining brings balance and cohesion. It gives you the chance to seamlessly connect paragraphs, chapters, and eventually, an entire novel.
- It prevents dead ends. You won’t find yourself stuck on a certain scene if you’ve already drafted 2-3 possible alternatives.
- Because you can see ahead of where your story’s going, you can foreshadow and leave your audience on several cliffhangers. Yay, suspense!
- It reveals good points of view for each scene because you’re removed from the creative cloud and can “see” whose voice is best suited.
- Outlines provide consistency for your characters, which is key if you want them to be well-loved or hated by readers.
- For us self-doubting, procrastination-prone writers it provides assurance and motivation. Feel vindicated when the strong bones you plotted out support your moments of doubt.
Remember, it’s okay to flex your process. You’re not connecting dots so your creation process can change as needed. Try different types of outlines to find what fits you and your story best. Mind maps are great if you’re a spatial thinker who works best with free-flowing brain storms. Pictorial outlines provide visual inspiration for scenes, settings, characters, and more. Maps work wonders for settings, too. Most popular fantasy series involve some sort of map to help readers (and the author) follow the sprawling journey of the story. It’s helpful for world building of any kind, really.
This last preparatory step was new to me, but seemed brilliant. It reminds me of the visualization exercises most athletes use. Picturing a perfect review is visualization for a writer. Instead of sinking a three-pointer, you published your novel. The perfect review should be specific, thorough, and extravagant. If it’s perfect, it highlights the best parts of your work. If you feel stumped, think of these high points and refer to them as you go.
Tools of the Trade
- Pen and Paper
- No online distractions!
- Discourages self-censorship
- Tactile reward of primal interaction
- Possible changes of pace and location
- Critical editing during transcription
- Instant hard copy
- Free storyboarding, character, setting, etc.
- Old calendars: story timeline
- Passion Planner
- Personal choice which also helps me keep track of other creative projects