Should You Outline Your Novel?

I consider myself to be a very organized person, especially in my professional life. Running social media and digital marketing for a large entity, it’s kind of a must.

That organization flows over into parts of my personal life (though I’m NOT a cleaner, so get that out of your head) I have 3 elementary-aged kids who all play sports, and well let me tell you. It’s either be organized or suck as a mom.

So naturally, when it comes to writing, I’m more of a plotter. That is, until I actually sit down to write. I never understood what writers meant when they said, “the characters tell me what the story is about” until I got serious about writing. Now, instead of thinking of those people like dramatic overly creative hippies, I find that it’s actually quite true.

Thoughts and ideas come to you when you’re engaged in the act of creating. Twists and turns you could have never thought of when plotting, all of sudden pour out of your mind and you struggle to keep up and catch it all onto paper.

So is that to say you shouldn’t plot? 
No way!

Plotting is essential for me. It helps keep my pacing on pace. It helps me know where I’m going. It helps me make sure I’m not just meandering around the plot and filling the page with pretty words.

What does an outline look like for me? Something a little like this (this is obviously made up and not a book I’m working on):

  • story opens with Jill. Set the need for her to get up the hill to get the magical healing water for her sister. Magical water is guarded by scary/evil creatures. No one has ever gotten the healing water since her ancestors 300 years ago.
  • meets Jack. Lots of chemistry. Jack is sick himself, but doesn’t tell Jill.
  • Jill’s sister gets even sicker. She has to get up that hill and get the water.
  • Jack offers to help her.
  • Break into the town leader’s hut and steals the magical pail that Jill’s ancestors used hundreds of years ago to bring down the water.
  • the start up the hill and get sidetracked by an ogre
  • ogre invites them for tea,
  • almost eaten by ogre. Jill saves the day by smashing ogre with pail
  • Pail is broken now. Need to figure out a way to mend it.
  • Have to go back down the hill to mend the pail.
  • ogre’s brother finds them while they are waiting for pail to be mended
  • instead of killing them, he steals pail when he overhears them talking about magical properties of the well
  • they go after the ogre to get back their pail.
  • make it up the hill, almost dying from a pack of demon wolves that Jack and Jill slay.
  • Finds shriveled ogre dead at the opening of the cave where the magical water is. Looks like he was thrown out. Pail is by his side.
  • Picks up pail and goes in.
  • Finds an ancient witch who makes them pass through 3 tests.
  • Recognizes Jill and calls her by her ancestor’s name. Jill finds out that it was actually her great-great-great-etc grandmother who bested the witch, not her great-great-great-etc grandfather as legend says
  • Pass 2 tests, but the last test will require the sacrifice of someone you love
  • realizes she loves Jack and he loves her, and before she can stop him, he sacrifices himself to the witch.
  • Jill is able to get the water in the magical pail, and gets dying Jack down the hill where she has to choose whether to give the water to him or to her sister.
  • He tells her he was dying anyways and before she can stop him, he gives the water to the sister.
  • the witch appears says she will heal Jack if Jill promises to become the new guardian of the healing waters. Jill agrees and the witch heals Jack.
  • Jill has to be back up the hill in exactly one year. Jack vows to figure out a way to free her from her promise to the witch.

So as you can see, it’s basically just bullet points that guides me on my writing journey. WHO KNOWS what would actually happen if I wrote this story because, like I said above, these are just loose outlines and the story evolves.

That’s my favorite part about writing actually. The evolution of a story idea.

Writing is tangible magic and I get to be the wizard who wields it.

writing is tangible magic and I get to be the wizard who wields it.

How do you like to outline?

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2 thoughts on “Should You Outline Your Novel?

  1. NeverWriter says:

    I started out as a pure pantser, but my first attempt at a novel this way got me into 50,000 words and the story wasn’t going anywhere at all.

    I plot now, but I don’t follow it religiously. In fact, I will change the outline to match where the story is going.

    I’m wondering if for some people writers block is partially not finding the sweet spot between plotting and going by the seat of your pants.

    I’ve seen many folk get hung up and stuck because their story isn’t following their rigid outline. I’ve also met people like me who churned out reams of text that ended up just a huge pile of dreck that had plenty of dead ends and wasn’t coherent enough to repair.

    • Destiny Cole says:

      You’re so right. I think the bottom line is you have to know where you’re going, but you need to let the story lead!

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