As National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) continues, we are staying true to our promise as we continue to offer informative advice about novel writing. This week, we want to focus on the importance of outlines when writing a novel.
For some people, there is no better feeling than crossing an item off a “to-do” list. In the same respect, outlines are very much like a to-do list, because they both organize your thoughts and list important things that need to be done (aka, written) to bring your novel to completion.
Outlining is the process of organizing the main points of your book, and then laying down the stepping stones of your plot from start to finish.
You may be asking yourself, “Why should I bother making an outline? It seems like extra work.” Contrary to that notion, creating an outline can actually help you do less work and save you the time and frustration that can occur when your thoughts are jumbled while writing.
Here are three tips about outlines:
Map it out – Creating an outline will help you organize your thoughts and direct you along an ordered path as you write your book. If you want to avoid missing any crucial parts of your story, developing an outline prior to writing will give you a physical checklist of what needs to be done and at what point in the story it needs to be done.
There is no right or wrong way to map out your outline. Your outline doesn’t have to follow the traditional Roman numeral-driven format you may have been taught in high school. Some people like writing things out in list form, while others work best with a series of post-it notes that are put into a comprehensive writing order. An outline is simply designed to help guide the progress of your book, and since you’re the writer, create it however it works best for you.
Stay on task – Outlines can help keep a writer on task because they remind you what information is supposed to be written next in your plotline. If you set aside time each day in your busy schedule to write as NaNoWriMo suggests, you’ll want to maximize that time. By knowing what to write and when to write it, you’ll alleviate any idle time that would be spent thinking about what event is supposed to take place in your novel. Essentially, having an outline will help you maximize your writing time, which will in turn help you reach your goal at a faster pace!
Plot twist – Outlining your book’s sequence of events in advance can help you adjust the plot as you add new ideas or cast old plans to the wayside while writing. Just because your initial outline had the plot going in one direction, that doesn’t mean that you can’t redirect your ideas down another path as your book evolves. An outline is basically a guide and isn’t written in stone as the end-all-be-all of your book – it can be adjusted! As you write, use your outline as a reference to keep you on track, but whenever your creative juices are flowing, don’t turn off the faucet just because it’s not matching up with your initial outline. Keep writing and your plot will evolve from there.
Though the initial stages of writing a novel can seem like a daunting task, creating an outline is a great way to gather and organize your thoughts. Think of a novel outline as the foundation for your book; use it for support and build from your ideas!