Should I Outline my Novel?

Hello again, readers! Today I am sharing the first post in a blogging series I’m doing about outlining your novel. Today I’m covering the topic: should I outline?

This is for all the pantsers (people who don’t outline) who are reading this. (Yes, that does include me.) We typically find ourselves not outlining because we just want to jump right into writing. We can’t wait, and it takes to much work to write an outline beforehand and then mess it up once you start writing. Can any of you relate to this?

And this is for plotters too. How much outlining is too much? Where do you find the balance?

So those are some of the topics I will go over today. Keep a look out for the other posts in this series which I’ll be posting in the following weeks! Next week K.M. Weiland, the author of multiple novels and non-fiction books for writers, will be popping in here to tell us about some of her strategies when it comes to outlining, and after that I will be putting together a step-by-step guide for you on how to outline your novel, and what are some different ways to do that.

So without further ado, let’s get to this week’s post: Should I Outline my Novel?

Let Me Tell You a Secret…

Whether you should or shouldn’t outline is a very controversial topic among the writing community. For some, outlining works well, and for others it doesn’t, hence the division between plotters and pantsers. Some people believe everyone should outline, and some people don’t.

Now let me share a secret with you, something that may change your whole perception of outlining and plotting.

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Are you ready?

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Here it comes…

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There is no right answer.

Yep, that’s right. Whether you decide to outline or not, either way is fine. If you want to outline before starting a novel, that’s totally fine. If you want to completely wing it and just start writing, that’s fine too. It’s all a matter of what works best for you.

For some, they can’t start writing without making an extremely detailed plan first. For others, outlining just doesn’t work, and they just have to just write and see what happens. And there’s nothing wrong with taking either of those approaches.

Outlining works well for some, and for others it doesn’t. So you have to decide what you think is best for you and your novel. Does outlining work better for you? Or does writing and just letting your story be born as you write it better?

Now, I will say, for those of you who prefer to write as it comes to you, that does not mean you’re off the hook for outlining. Yes, you might start writing before you have a full outline written down, but it’s still vitally important for you to outline. You just do it after you’re done writing your first draft.

So just because you don’t like outlining doesn’t mean you should stay away from it entirely. When I write my novels, I write the first draft, and then after that I put together an outline of the entire story. This helps me a lot, because it allows me to:

  • See if my plot lines up with the exact story structure I’m using
  • Make sure there are no plot holes
  • Look at my story at a glance and see what needs fixed

Even for you pantsers who like to write without outlining, I think it’s very important for you to still outline your novel, just after the first draft.

But am I an Outliner, or not?

Okay, so for some of the more experienced writers reading this, you may already know what approach to outlining works best for you. But for you beginners, maybe you haven’t fully realized whether you like outlining or not. I know when I first started writing, everyone told me that outlining was the best way to do it, so I did. Or at least, I tried. I couldn’t get very far on my outlines before I started procrastinating and getting bored with my story. So I finally got impatient and started drafting an entire novel with barely any plan in mind.

And guess where that got me? Yep, within a few months, I had a totally complete first draft. It was a huge accomplishment, and I probably wouldn’t have gotten there if I hadn’t tried writing the novel and had stayed stuck with outlining.

That’s what worked for me. But will that work for you? Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. To find out, all you gotta do is try. Try to make an outline, and see how it goes. Do you feel like you just want to start writing? Then go for it. Do you feel like you need a super detailed outline? Then that’s fine too. Just experiment and see what works best.

Pros and Cons to Outlining

Pros

  • Outlining gives you a plan to start out with. If you outline beforehand, it prevents you from going off on rabbit-trails in your story and getting distracted from the main plot. It also allows you to think about how you’re developing your characters and it helps you know how to fit all the right elements into your story.
  • Outlining urges you to keep writing. If you have an outline, you’ll be urged on to keep writing because you know where your story is supposed to go next. Whereas, with pantsing a novel, you might be prone to make the excuse “I’m stuck” or “I don’t know what to do next”, and you might end up with writer’s block.
  • You can write faster when you have an outline. As you’re writing your first draft, you won’t have to constantly ask the question “What should I write next?” Instead, you can just look at your outline and see what you’re supposed to be writing for the day. It also makes it easier to dive right back into your writing after taking a break.
  • With an outling, you don’t need to worry how your story will turn out. Wouldn’t it be disappointing to write an entire novel and then realize that your plot won’t work, and you can’t get it published? But with an outline, you don’t have to do all the work of drafting a novel and you can see whether your plot works or not beforehand.
  • You can plan ahead with an outline. If you already know the entire direction of your story before you start drafting, then it’s easier to pick a title, make a cover, and do other things that are super important for your story.

Cons

  • Making a detailed outline beforehand takes more time. If you’re pantsing your novel and you start your outline after the first draft, then your outline will likely have to be less detailed and will take less time to make, because you already know what should happen in your story.
  • Outlining can stunt creativity. Sometimes, at least for me, it feels like making an outline boxes me in too much. I feel like my story can’t reach its full potential that way. Whereas with writing from scratch, it feels like there are endless possibilities and it’s more inspiring to me.
  • If you use an outline, your book could end up too short or too fast-paced. If you have an outline, it might make you want to move on with your story too fast, which could cause your story to become too fast-paced.
  • Your outline could change. Once you finish your outline and start writing, you may realize you have a better idea for your story than what is in your outline, and you may end up waning to change your original idea. This completely wastes all your hard work of making an outline.

So those are some pros and cons to outlining! Outlining can be great for some, and for others, maybe not. If you haven’t decided what works best for you, then maybe this list will help you with that.

Conclusion

Outlining is important for any writer. Whether you choose to outline before or after your first draft is entirely up to you.

Stay on the lookout for the next few posts in this series! In next week’s post, you’ll get to read an exclusive interview with K.M. Weiland and what she thinks about outlining, and after that I will share a step-by-step guide to outlining. And there may or may not be a quiz to find out if you’re an outliner or not…

Well, anyway, that concludes today’s post!

What are your thoughts on outlining? Are you a plotter, or a pantser? Do you outline before or after the first draft? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

21 thoughts on “Should I Outline my Novel?

  1. Joy C. Woodbury says:

    I’m a pantser as well, but for the third draft of my novel that I’m working on now, I made a simple outline. Now I’m confident that this story will be much stronger this time around!

  2. Emma Rose Thrasher says:

    This was very helpful! Although, I’m not sure that your outline is useless if it changes. My outline for my current WIP changed a LOT, but I’m still super glad I made it—because if I hadn’t, I’d never have been brave enough to write the story at all.

    • Annabelle says:

      Thanks! That’s a good point… I should probably change that part of my post to mention what you’re saying. Thanks for pointing that out!

  3. Kayti says:

    Yes! Just what I needed! I’m a pantster as in never written an outline in my life! Once I finish a draft, which I’ve only done once, I run through a outline in my head…but I’ve never put it on paper or computer. My current WIP seriously has me rethinking this method though…so I might try my hand at outlining. 🙂
    This post was so informative and great!

  4. Lillian-Keith says:

    This was a great post, Annabelle! Personally, I think I’m a combo of both a panster and plotter XD. I like outlining, but not too much. I like to leave room to be creative. Anyway, I look forward to reading the rest of the posts in the series!

  5. Saraina says:

    AWESOME post!! I loved your list of pros and cons to outlining! 😀 It does have the tendency to stunt my creativity, so what I like to do is to give myself plenty of freedom within the general structure of the outline, and even if the story takes an unexpected twist, I just roll with it. 😛 Thank you for sharing this, Annabelle!

    • Annabelle says:

      Thank you, Saraina! That’s a good strategy, as it gives you a balance between full-on outlining and just going with your writing flow. Love it!

  6. LULU UNLEASHED says:

    Outlining is a great idea! Though, I would prefer other things, such as my imagination, which is an over populated solar system of characters and ideas, so I don’t know if I a, good, or not. XD
    But thanks Annabelle, that actually will probably help a lot!
    *how do you get these ideas?!*
    Well, I love to give tips to my friends about books, too, and now I need to tell them about this! Thx! xD

    • Annabelle says:

      Luella, I totally get that. XD My imagination has WAYYY too many characters running around in there right now creating havoc in my brain. Haha, but don’t worry, I’m used to it.

      Thanks! *doesn’t know where I get these ideas*

  7. Kevin Baerg says:

    Excellent tips and a great look into the pros and cons! I find an outline very helpful but agree that you don’t want to have it box you in. You can also keep your outline as simple as possible so as not to get bogged down before you get started on the main writing. Sometimes just throwing words down on paper (screen) will bring out the best creativity!

    • Annabelle says:

      Thank you! That’s a great strategy. There can definitely be a balance between outlining and pantsing.

  8. Lily May says:

    I loved this post! Very helpful. Thanks for sharing, and I’m looking forward to more outlining posts in the future! 🙂 I’m a planner myself, but I have to write something before I have the entire thing outlined, so I have a bit of pantser in me. 😀

    • Annabelle says:

      Thank you, Lily! Haha, yes, it’s interesting how some people are a combination between a plotter and a pantser.

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