To Plot, or Not to Plot: How to Know if Outlining is Right for You || Guest Post

Today, we have a guest post from the lovely Julia, who’s discussing the pros and cons of plotting/outlining your novel. Enjoy!

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Should I outline my novel?

If you’ve been a writer for a long time, you’ve probably heard of the term outlining or plotting. But what do those words really mean?

Google defines the word outline as “a general description or plan giving the essential features of something but not the detail.” Plot is defined as “the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated [or connected] sequence.”

Outlining–or plotting–is basically the skeleton of your story. When outlining, you’re plotting the events where you want them to occur in your story.

Now, there is a lot more to outlining, but here, I will briefly cover the main aspects of it. In this article, I hope to give you a glance of the benefits of outlining so you can discern whether or not you should outline your novel. Then you can dig deeper into outlining and decide where you want to take your story next.

I’ve been reading K.M. Weiland’s book, Outlining Your Novel. While I haven’t read it all the way through yet, I’m already thinking, Why in the world have I not read this before?! It would have saved my writing so much!

However, some people misunderstand outlining. Here are 3 common reasons people don’t want to outline: 1) outlining takes too much time, 2) outlining takes too mental energy and zaps your creativity, and 3) outlining doesn’t let you start your story quickly enough.

These sound like great arguments, don’t they? Well, let’s take a closer look at each of them.

Outlining Takes Too Much Time.

Well, my friend, yes, outlining takes time. It could be a few months before you finished your outline!

But hold your horses! Don’t get discouraged! While outlining takes time, it’s also–in a way–the first draft of your novel.

When you’re writing a first draft, you have to put in little details in order to make the story and sentence structure flow better. That means you have to write hundreds and thousands of words just to see if an idea will work. When going back and editing your novel, you might find yourself cutting those small, simple sentences, or huge, complex paragraphs, simply because you realized they didn’t fit into your plot.

However, with an ouline, you can see at a glance what you want to include. The nice thing about outlining is that you can easily change a few words without cutting the huge pieces you worked so hard to write.

Outlining allows you to solidify your plot and lessen the risk of plot holes or sagging points in your story.

Weiland says that an outline is like a map, and I agree. With an outline, you know exactly where to put this character, that scene, this point of view, that plot point, etc. Without an outline, it’s like driving without a map or GPS. You don’t know where you’re going or where the road will lead you.

I’ve done little bits and pieces of outlining for my two novels. My first novel was an expansion of a novella I had written, so I had the basics of the plot pinned down already.

However, I started my second novel from scratch (and little notes and ideas). It was not a good idea to start without an outline because, when I would sit down to write, I wouldn’t be sure where to take my novel next.

Well, I guess this sounds good…?

Oohh! This would be cool!

Great, now I have to delete that entire scene. And I worked so hard on it!

For all you “pansters” (also known as discoverers), you’ve probably experienced similar reactions. The last one is super frustrating.

Taking the time to write your outline now will save you tons of time and frustration in the long run.

The main point is this: Outlining takes time, but in the end, it’s worth it. Not only does it let you solidify your plot and let you write better stories, but with an outline, you can have confidence that your story will turn out well because, after all, you’ve already written your draft in bulleted form. And here is something else that changed my view of outlining: you don’t have to stick with the outline. If you want to change something, feel free to do it! If you want to add something, go through your outline and see where your idea would best come in.

Outlining takes too much mental energy and zaps my creativity.

Outlining does use mental energy and creativity–but so does writing! In fact, almost anything you do will require mental energy and a creative imagination.

Perhaps you’ve never realized this before, but outlining actually allows for more creativity. Writing dialogue and scenes, in addition to coming up with ideas for your novel, drains your mental energy. However, if you already have the main outline written out, all you have to do is write the story–and you have confidence that everything will work together because of your outline.

Andrew Pudewa, the director for Institute in Excellence in Writing, said, “An outline is so that you don’t have to worry about what to say. Rather, you can concentrate on how to say it.”

When you already have your outline, you don’t have to wrack your brain to come up with ideas about what to say. When you’re not sure where to take your story next, just do whatever the outline tells you.

The main point is this: Outlining does not zap your creativity. In fact, it allows for more creativity because the ideas are already there. All that’s left in the writing process is deciding how to say it.

Outlining doesn’t let me start my story quickly enough.

This goes back to my first point: outlining takes time, and when you feel motivated, all you want to do is start your story.

Trust me, I understand.

But I also realize these two dangers of starting your book without an outline: 1) you don’t have a solid story structure, and 2) you must come up with ideas to write, as well as actually writing (as we mentioned above).

The main point is this: Don’t get overambitious so as to forget the map before taking off on your writing trip. Traveling without a map is dangerous–so don’t forget to grab the outline before beginning your book!

So what should I do?

What should you do now? Am I telling you that writers who don’t outline are doing it wrong?

Absolutely not.

Different writers have different approaches to their writing. If I say you have to outline because I think it will save your writing life, does that mean you have to? No, of course not. You are the author. You have to decide what writing method works for you.

How will you know which method works for you? Well, my friend, that’s the fun part. You get to experiment and have fun!

That’s another thing. Remember that writing is hard, but it’s also loads of fun! That’s why we stick with it, right?

In the same way, try to enjoy the outlining process. It will be hard. It will take time. Choose to enjoy it, and I’m sure that one day, you really will.

So what would you rather do? Would you rather take the time to outline and get your entire story’s plot and theme created beforehand–or take the time to rewrite your novel at the end, filling in the gaps and plot holes of the first draft?

Whatever method you choose–outlining or “pantsing”–writing your novel is going to take time, and lots of it. You, as the writer, have to decide how you’d like to spend your time.

TheReb headshot Julia N.Julia Nelson writes mainly non-fiction articles, historical fiction stories, and blog posts. As a part of the Young Writer’s Workshop, Julia enjoys connecting with other young writers like herself, as well as learning more about the writing craft from amazing instructors. As a Christian, Julia firmly believes that her writing talent was not given to her randomly; already, God is using her to encourage and inspire other writers. You can find her blogging weekly at Willowcreek Pines.


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