To Outline Or Not To Outline?
Today, someone asked me for help with her book. She knows what she want to write about and has been working on it for some time. However, she is stuck and doesn’t know how to get her thoughts on paper. The problem is, her notes aren’t organized properly. What was my answer? Easy. She needs to outline her story!
Some writers feel that outlining takes all the joy out of the process. One friend once told me, “If I were to outline the entire book, what would be the point in writing it? I know exactly what will happen!” Although I understood what he meant, I couldn’t disagree more.
Outlining saves time
As a writer, I enjoy creating the mile markers first and then filling in the details. I prefer knowing where I’m starting and where I’m going; I like to be in control! It’s good to know what will happen before I commit to writing pages upon pages. I mean, if wrote thousands of words, which all went in a wrong direction, I would be frustrated. But I’d need to come to terms with the fact that those words should be discarded.
Bottom line, if you’re stuck and unable to write, please consider writing a detailed outline.
If you’re writing a fiction book, tackle each individual incident. Delineate:
- Who is in the scene
- Where it takes place
- When it happened
- What happened (briefly)
- What is the purpose of the scene.
The last point is the most important aspect for this exercise by far. After all, if the scene has no purpose, you shouldn’t waste your time writing it. It will just land on the editing room floor at the end of the project.
Your outline should be purpose driven. Every scene must propel your story forward. Each incident must have a reason for being there, something that fits in with the flow of the book.
Outlining for nonfiction
If you’re writing a how-to book, your outline will be very different. I’d suggest that you create a table of contents, with bullet points for subheads. I often write a little paragraph describing the proposed text under each chapter or subhead.
I’d love to hear from fellow writers. What do you think? Do you use an outline? Please post your thoughts in the comments below.
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