"Four Myths about Outlining Your Novel:" Craft Article by Yours Truly :)

Published today (12/12/17) at Women on Writing's awesome blog! Enjoy. 

"Four Myths about Outlining Your Novel"

By Melanie Faith

straws danielle-macinnes-222434.jpg

photo by: Danielle MacInnes

Here comes a new year, and with it goals you'd like to accomplish in your writing. What better time than now to write your novel? One of the best ways to begin a novel is to prepare an outline or series of outlines first.


Let's smash some commonly-held myths about beginning with planning:


Myth 1: Following an outline will kill my creativity and take the fun out of writing.


"There's an outline for each of the books that I adhere to pretty closely, but I'm not averse to taking it in a new direction, as long as I can get it back to where I need it to go." ~ Justin Cronin


Some of the most creative, amusing excerpts my students have written were outlines of their characters and their proposed plots. Outlining uses many of the same muse-muscles as drafting and is part of a fluid writing process: tapping into the subconscious and making connections between settings, conflicts and characters, while compressing those elements for ease of exploration.


I've been the writer who delved in--and ended up writing 45 pages of a book to figure out what my conflict was--only to have to scrap the first 44 pages and begin rewriting from that point. Had I paused to craft outlines, I could have pinpointed my characters' motivations and the main conflict much, much sooner. I also could have enjoyed exploring relevant details about my characters' lives first, rather than cluttering up my draft with interesting but inessential information that appeared in my first drafts.


The other great, creative facet of outlines is that they are not written in stone. They are meant to be seen at a glance yet developed over time. You can easily pull up the file and edit. Go ahead: add, change, move, or omit details as you learn more about your characters and plot, without scrolling through numerous pages and extraneous details.


Myth 2: Outlines are so boring! All of those Roman numerals and indentations--no, thanks.


These ain't your high-school English teacher's outlines. There are numerous ways of outlining your novel--mapping, using images from online to create a picture map of a setting or a character, using a White Board to create giant lists, making a photo roll on your mobile device, you name it. I've had students submit Pinterest pages relating to their characters as a weekly outline, which was an ingenious way to visually collate ideas about their protagonist. Others created a brief Power Point presentation of four or five slides about their plots. Use whatever organizing principle you find most compelling, whether that's a traditional, numbered outline or fill-in-the-blank workbook exercise or a more modern approach.


Myth 3: Outlines should describe the entire plot, setting, and conflicts and detail every character, yet I don't know all of this information yet.


Guess what: you'll get glimpses of your characters' lives, motivations, fears, and joys as you go. Most of the students in my outlining course begin with one or two characters and a setting and, through the process of outlining, other elements pop up and surprise them as the story develops and they chase new threads of narrative. Students are welcome to return to amend their outlines at any time.


Myth 4: Outlining is a waste of time. Wouldn't it be better just to dive in and see where it goes?


"The more work you put in on your outline and getting the skeleton of your story right, the easier the process is later." ~ Drew Goddard


Actually, pre-planning actually saves you time, especially in the long run. Remember those 44 pages I mentioned earlier? Had I done pre-writing with my characters and plot, I could have saved at least 10 hours of writing time--and gotten to the same place with more focus and energy: the opening scene.

My outlining course that begins on January 12th. Consider signing up or sharing with writer friends: Outlining Your Novel with Ease