The Value of an Outline

A few weeks ago I shored up the outline for my latest novel.  This is my second novel and the first one I’m writing using an explicit outline.  It’s an old, vetted concept that I just recently adopted, and I’ve found that writing with an outline is much better than writing without one.

Writing tends to be the easier part.  I say that not in arrogant confidence but in realistic accuracy.   I know most of my English grammar rules, I’m good with punctuation, I’m good at spelling, and I can creatively describe people, places, and things.  Once I start, the words just seem to keep flowing.

Creating something from nothing is the hard part.

The outline is the truly creative part.  That document is a simple bullet-point list of the story events, broken out by chapter.  I don’t even care about grammer, punctation, or spelling in this document.  It’s the blueprint for the story.

Despite all that it’s arguably the most important component of the novel.

The outline is the meat of the story, the heart and the soul.  It’s the application of theory.  It’s what takes an ethereal, amorphous, intangible idea and turns it into a thrilling page-turner.  It’s what generates the poetry on paper, the characters people care about and the things that happen to them.

For me, describing something that already exists is fairly easy.  Creating something that doesn’t exist, isn’t.

This is where my biggest trepidation lies as a writer.  Of course my writing has flaws and weaknesses and of course it can always be better.  But it’s generally okay, for the most part.  The story, however, is critical.   A bad story can’t be saved by the best prose.

I’m now focusing as much on the story structure and the plot as I am on the writing itself.

I know that sounds automatic, but I think for me it’s an indication that I’m growing as a writer.  I’m still a newbie.  Knowing that plot and exposition have been two of my weak points I can focus on those and get better.

I think my newest novel is my strongest yet.  I put a lot of time and effort into the plot and having a completed outline also gives me confidence that it won’t run out of steam part-way through.

I look back now and can’t believe I even started a novel without an outline.  Maybe that’s why it took me two years to write my first one.  My latest novel?  I’ve been working on the rough draft for three weeks and it’s 1/3 complete.  Even counting the thee weeks I spent on the outline that’s only a month and a half total so far.

At this rate, I can realistically write four novels in the time it would have taken me to write one.

That’s pretty much a no-brainer.  For me, outlining is critical to success.


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