Benefits of Outlining Your Novel

Welcome to the last installment in our series of video/audio trailers, offering a sneak peek into the first chapter of Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success. Be sure to sign up for the last of our mini prize giveaways, before next week’s Grand Prize, worth over $400. Leave a comment to register for today’s prize, a signed copy of my medieval epic Behold the Dawn. And now let’s talk about some of the benefits of outlines.

Video Transcription:

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. WeilandSo just what do you get when you decide to invest your time in outlining? To begin with, outlining offers all of the following benefits:

Outlining Your Novel Ensures Balance and Cohesion

In an outline, you can see at a glance if the inciting event takes place too late in the story, if the middle sags, or if the climax doesn’t resonate. Instead of having to diagnose and remedy these problems after the first draft, you can fix problems in the outline in only a few keystrokes.

Outlining Your Novel Prevents Dead-End Ideas

How many times have you started writing an exciting new plot twist, only to realize—5,000 words later—that it’s led you to a cul-de-sac? You either have to spend valuable time backtracking and trying to write your way around the roadblock—or you have to cut the subplot altogether and start afresh. Outlines allow you to follow plot twists and subplots to their logical end (or lack thereof) in much less time. You can identify the dead-end ideas and cull them before they become annoying and embarrassing plot holes.

Outlining Your Novel Provides Foreshadowing

It’s nearly impossible for an author to foreshadow an event of which he has no idea. As a pantser, when a startling plot twist occurs late in the book, you’ll have to go back and sow your foreshadowing into earlier scenes. Not only is this extra work, it can often be difficult to make the new hints of what’s yet to come flow effortlessly with your already constructed scenes. Because an outline gives you inside knowledge about what’s going to happen in subsequent scenes, it provides you the opportunity to plant some organic foreshadowing.

Outlining Your Novel Smoothes Pacing

Like foreshadowing, pacing often requires inside knowledge. If the author doesn’t know the protagonist is about to be shot in the back, he can hardly adjust the pacing to introduce this shocking new event in the right manner. An outline shows you the places where your story is running too fast and the places where it is lagging and sagging.

Outlining Your Novel Indicates Preferable POVs

When working with multiple points of view, it can often be challenging to know which scene should be written from which POV. Too often, we write a scene from one character’s POV, only to realize a different character’s narrative perspective would probably have offered a better experience for the reader. As a result, we’re forced to go back and rewrite the entire scene. Outlines allow us to make educated decisions about POV, thanks to insights regarding plot and character. Just as importantly, outlines permit us to look at the balance of our POVs over the course of the entire novel, so we can ensure each character is getting an appropriate amount of time at the mic.

Outlining Your Novel Maintains Consistent Character Voice

When writing without an outline, we’re often discovering the characters right along with the readers, and because our perception and understanding of our characters often evolve over the course of the story, the result can be an uneven presentation of the character’s voice. Outlining—particularly if your outlining process includes the character sketches described in Chapter Seven—will help you discover your character, and his voice, before you begin portraying him in your narrative.

Outlining Your Novel Offers Motivation and Assurance

Writing a novel can be overwhelming. Typing thousands of words is an undertaking in itself—but when those words all have to hang together in a way that is sensible, entertaining, and resonant, that’s enough to make our knees start shaking beneath our desks. Outlines give us the assurance that we can craft a complete story, because, after all, there it is, right in front of us, on paper. We’ve already written the complete story; all we have to do now is fill in the blanks. And because those blanks are ones that fascinate us, outlines also motivate us to keep on writing through the tough spots, so we can get to the good stuff.

Tell me your opinion: What do you think is greatest benefit of outlining your novel?

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland's monthly e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.
Email:
About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. The greatest benefit of outlining is preventing a plot trainwreck later on. 😮

    Seriously, I’ve encountered many of the situations you’ve listed above. I tend to be a very metaphoric writer, even with novels, and so much of what I put on the page works on some level towards the greater whole. If I don’t have a focus for the story early on, the plot often runs in all sorts of directions and tends to dilute the overall effect.

  2. As usually, you get a lot of info in a short space. I always enjoy these videos.

  3. I have been a pantster (with a little outlining thrown in) most of my life but I am working on something new and trying to outline/plan it out before writing anything – except for a few snippets of scenes or dialogue that come into my head. we’ll see how it works…

  4. For me, the greatest benefit of outlining is providing myself with a solid idea of where I’m going. Knowing where I should end up, as opposed to running with every new idea I have, pretty much kills the writer’s block.

    Great video!

  5. I agree with MGalloway– outlining prevents plot trainwrecks. I did what I thought was an outline of my WiP, only to find out that I really hadn’t figured out a logical, beleivable plot sequence, nor did I have a quality ending. I’m looking at doing some serious rewriting, and eagerly anticipating starting my next novel, which will be plotted to death.

  6. The thing is, writing is a huge time investment. An outline can really help avoid a lot of wasted time. I find it interesting, though, that there are many successful writers in both the outline camp and the non-outline camp. I’m somewhere in the middle. I use the 3×5 scene cards because I feel restricted by an outline but nebulous with no plan at all. I’ve also thought of trying a flow chart on a board with post-its, but I haven’t done it yet.

    : )

  7. @MGalloway: Same here. IMO, there is *nothing* worse than spending months on a story, only to realize it’s headed in entirely the wrong direction.

    @Dixie: Glad you enjoyed it!

    @mshatch: Have fun! Every story demands a slightly different technique (or sometimes radically different!). Experimentation is the name of the game.

    @H.A.: The death of writer’s block is one of my favorite things about the outline. If I know what I’m supposed to be writing on any given day, I’m much less likely to end up staring at the screen with nothing to say.

    @chitrader: It’s amazing how much we can miss when we only look at our stories on a macro level. Once we start planning the nitty-gritty of how scenes work and influence one another, the story takes on an entirely different feel.

    @Beth: I’ve used post-its for some of my books. They’re great because they allow you to see your outline at a glance and give you the opportunity to rearrange scenes where necessary.

  8. Oh, how I wish I had heard of outlining when I first started writing. It would have saved me the disastrous knot of my first novel which is taking me forever to untangle, plot out and rewrite. These are all excellent, beautiful and needed reminders as I plot out some things running around in my head on paper today! Thank you so much for sharing the wisdom you have gleaned. I can’t wait to get a hold of your new book!

    Have a beautiful day!

    Jessica

  9. I’m still a pantser but great advice!

  10. @Jessica: Every story teaches us something – especially those that fail. So you’re time wasn’t wasted. Perhaps you needed that first novel to lead you to outlining.

    @Bryan: You rebel, you! 😉

  11. I don’t usually outline, per se, but I do “write” ahead in my mind, and always know where I am going. If I don’t know where the story is going, then I leave it and work out the kinks either in my mind or on paper before continuing. I guess I do outline somewhat, usually in the form of questions I write down in notepads. Notes, passages, plot twists…

  12. I do a lot of “writing ahead” in my mind, but I have to write down my solutions quickly, or I’ll probably forget them. :p

  13. What a coincidence, I posted about my recent experiences with outlining last night. =) My preference for so many years writing by the seat of my pants. But of late, I have really come to love the adventure of outlining the novel beforehand. Thank you for this post. It is definitely one that I am going to keep close at hand to remind me why it is I do what I do.
    ~Nona

  14. My question is, how detailed of an outline should we make for a story?

  15. Yes! What everybody else said about preventing trainwrecks!

  16. @Nona: So often, people think outlining has to be a dry, dull experience – but it *is* an adventure. I can’t wait until my next outline!

    @Hannah: That’s entirely up to you. My outlines tend to be fairly detailed. I plan every scene, down to the setting, characters present, major plot points, subplots, etc. But some writers find they work best if they just write a list of major plot points.

    @Kam: Writing and train wrecks are never a good combo.

  17. Outlining, exploratory writing, even first drafting could be considered elements of the same activity. I think one of the things “pantsers” miss is that outlining can be very flexible. It can be as simple as a couple of scribbled notes, or it can be that you write a possible ending first (which you can change if the story takes on a new dimension in the writing).

  18. Totally agree. The process is the same for all of us. It’s just that the techniques vary a little from author to author – and story to story.

  19. I’d never really thought about how outlining affects character voice. Outlines are good motivators 🙂

    ~ Chy

  20. We never really know our characters until we discover them on the page and chart their character arc over the course of the story. Without an outline, our perception of our characters can be changing with every new scene we write.

  21. Oh, gosh. I HATE outlining.

    Maybe that’s why I don’t get anywhere in my writing?

    Seriously, though. Having a general direction to go in has saved my life on more than one occasion. I need to use outlines more often.

  22. I favour outlines in all my writing, whether it is leisure, creative, or professional, outlining my work is the starting point for me. It where I gather my ideas into a concise and clear path. A benefit for me is that it gives me a visible roadmap of writing. Not only do I have a direction but I see the divisions and where other parts synch. However, I use it as a guide meaning nothing is set in stone and I can put in changes accordingly. It certainly comes in handy should I get “lost”.

  23. @Claire: You might find more enjoyment in outlining if you did a little experimenting to discover a process you jive with. Outlining is about discovering story and properly structuring it before you ever start that first draft, but the actual form the outline takes is very flexible. It’s just a matter of discovering what works best for you.

    @Na: Remembering the outline is only a guide is important if we’re going to maintain the fluidity and organicity necessary in truly creative works.

  24. Another great post.
    I find the outline keeps my plot line going in the direction I want and also allows me to rearrange things if needed.

  25. Yep, yep, yep. Outlines are the perfect balance of flexibility and structured guidance.

  26. Outlines kept me motivated when I was at the 30,000-word mark and tired of my 1st novel manuscript. Outlines are reassuring, too, because – as you say – the whole story is right there on paper. We just need to fill in the details.
    In my opinion, we avoid outlines out of fear because we don’t understand them or know how to use them (or maybe it’s just me who was intimidated by them in elementary school). Nearly 15 years of journalism experience taught me outlines are your best friends – especially when writing on deadline.
    Great topic! Great post!

  27. I’m sorry, but…I’m still reading this from the not-quite-convinced part. The last time I outlined, it was a backwards outline.

  28. @Pedro: In all honesty, I think laziness also has a little to do with why we sometimes avoid outlines. Unlike first drafts, outlines don’t disguise the necessity for hard work and a time commitment under the glitter of pure storytelling.

    @Galadriel: Reverse outlines? I’ve used those on almost every one of my stories. Sometimes the best way to look at a problem is from the “hindsight is 20/20” perspective.

  29. I do outline, but very loosely. At times, particularly on my current novel where the time sequence is important, I have even done a time-line to quickly check that the character is where and when she should be. This particular novel took a very unexpected twist, an unoutlined twist, but which seems to work. I spend a lot of time writing character personality descriptions.

  30. Timelines can be vital if the novel takes place over either a very short period of time or a very long period. The free outlining software yWriter has a great feature for tracking dates and times of scenes.

  31. This is making more and more sense to me. Thanks for the sneak peek. We all appreciate it. Keep it coming.
    Blessings.
    Jan

  32. Oh, and I think that outlining would help define and manage the arch of the plot and characters.

  33. Give it a try! You may decide outlining is just the ticket for your writing.

  34. I’ve written both ways, with and without an outline. I do find the outline offers guidance, kind of like a map, but I find the seat-of-the-pants writing amazing. You start from nothing and off you go. You do have to edit carefully though to make sure it all works. 🙂

    Great information, thanks.

  35. Ultimately, editing carefully is the name of the game, no matter which route you choose!

  36. I’ve done both outlining and non-outlining, and I’ve found that working without an outline turns out much better. Of course, this is just me! Tons of people work much better with an outline, and for them, this post is completely relevant.

    Outlining does help foreshadowing, yes. I think that’s the biggest downside of non-outlining. However, I sometimes work with a brainstorm-outline that allows me to foreshadow: I know what’s going to happen, but it’s not written down. It’s all in my head.

    I think the best thing I’ve found about non-outlining is that I have complete freedom to add and take away and whatnot. When I tried outlining, I outlined and scrapped the novel twice before I hit the right combination. And then I scrapped THAT outline halfway through because my characters and my logic wanted to go in a different direction. I think it ended up much better for it.

    I’ve had so much fun with this novel because I literally get ideas in the middle of a chapter. As soon as I began to write this one character, he morphed into a vigilante under a false identity. Had I written an outline, he would have never had ended up that way. I had different plans for him, but he had different plans for me.

    But this is still helpful for a SOP writer like me. 🙂 It tells me what mistakes might occur when writing from the seat of my pants and how I could avoid it.

  37. Authors who are willing to play around to find the process that works best for them – whether it ends up being outlining, pantsing, or some combination thereof – should always be commended. The only process that absolutely doesn’t work is the one in which we stagnate. So long as we’re willing to reach out, experiment, and actively continue discovering the process that’s best for each story, that’s all that matters.

  38. So far, outlining has been the most effective discovery of writing process for me. I anticipate almost every turn, and don’t start typing until images flash in my head.
    Not that I always follow the outline. Nah. It’s just to prevent the frustrating deadend of “now what”. I mostly listen to the fancy pictures in my imagination, but I guess that’s writer’s nature.

  39. Outlining is a tremendous tool. I shudder to think of ever *not* being able to use it. :p

  40. I’ve always been a pantser, so I think really the only benefit of an outline is if it works for your natural processes (likewise, I would say the same thing if an outliner was considering pantsing). I have tried them, briefly, when I had problems with one of my story, and instead of helping, the outline nearly wrecked the story. I still have all the same benefits as you listed above, even without using an outline.

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      I totally agree with you. The most important thing any of us can do as writers is to figure out the unique processes that work best for us as individuals. If something’s not working for you, definitely don’t do it – even if it’s what all the experts seem to be touting.

Speak Your Mind

*