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Why You Should Outline Your Novel

Imagine getting off the plane in a brand-new country with nothing but your clothes and a head full of exciting plans. You don’t have your hotel’s address—in fact, you haven’t booked any accomodations or mapped out tourist destinations at all.

When writing a novel, making the decision not to outline before you write is like taking that spontaneous vacation: It puts unnecessary problems in your way.

To Outline or Not to Outline?

That is a contentious and often-argued question, even amongst world-famous authors. We happen to believe that taking the time to outline your novel is the secret to completion. Coming up with a story is one thing, but actually finishing it takes organization and planning. Even if you’re the type of writer who gets a whiff of inspiration and charges head first into a completely different direction than your original plot, the outline is still the magic ingredient of novel-writing success. Here’s why:

Developing the Plot

It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned author, every story you write needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. Writing a plot outline gives you more than just these three sections. It helps you develop key scenes that take place in between these pivotal moments. Outlining your plot allows you to:

  • Play with timing and move scenes around

  • Develop your characters

  • Build your world with scene descriptions

  • Work out major and minor plot arcs

  • See the end!

Tip: When working on your plot outline, start with the big details. Jot down your original ideas first. Don’t be afraid to rearrange scenes or leave things blank for now.

Character Development

People never change. Or do they? No matter what you believe, your characters have to come out the other side of the book somehow altered by the story. Writing your plot outline ensures your characters are along for the ride and that their arc moves forward along with the story rather than stay stagnant.

Tip: The more you know your character, the easier it will be to weave their lives into the plot. Spend some time with your character to really get to know them.

An Antidote to Writer’s Block

Perhaps the most vital reason to outline your story before you start is that your chances of encountering the god-awful writer’s block are almost completed erased. Writer’s block comes to us when we least expect it, so even if you have an amazing first five chapters thoroughly mapped out in your head, you might soon realize you have no idea how to move the story forward in chapter six. Merely glancing at your novel outline lifts the fog. Just when you think you’re stuck in a writer’s rut, your outline is there to gently guide you to the next scene, like a lifesaver carrying you to safer waters.

Tip: If you’ve been struggling with writer’s block and you really can’t think of where to go next, you may also benefit from free writing, which is a technique that involves writing continuously for a period of time in a stream-of-consciousness style. This may get the juices flowing and inspire you to write.

What a Plot Outline is Not

Some writers get it in their head that outlines strip novel writing of its romance and magic. The creative process suddenly turns into pages and pages of homework. But as Ernest Hemingway says, “Prose is architecture. It’s not interior design.” What he means is that you can’t write a story without some type of structure. As soon as you get it out of your mind that a “real” writer is supposed to only use the right side of their brain, you can begin to approach your novel both strategically and creatively. You will not lose points for outlining your novel beforehand. Even Leonardo Da Vinci developed a paint-by-numbers scheme to facilitate his masterpieces, and no one on the planet can accuse him of not being a real artist.

Start Outlining!

A plot outline is not a static thing. It is, after all, your plot outline, and you can change it however many times you want. Don’t hesitate to rip it up and start all over again. If you’re struggling to get started on your outline, find out how you can benefit from coaching with Polished Pages. We truly believe that anyone who has a story to tell can be a writer, and outlining is the secret to unlock true creativity. Sign up for coaching today or contact us for more information!