We’ve previously discussed outlining, and looked at some of the popular misconceptions when it comes to mapping out your novel in some form. All of this effort begs the question: is outlining your next thriller worth it? The answer to that is a resounding YES! There are many benefits to outlining your novel; doing so may make it easier to write a better story in the end. Let’s look at seven terrific benefits to outlining your novel.
Keep the Story on Track
If you outline the progression of scenes in your novel from beginning to end, it can serve as a sort of map for you. As you begin to write a scene, you can do so knowing what came before the scene you are writing, and what comes next. Having an outline to reference will help you focus your writing, and avoid any tangents that aren’t germane to the story.
Stay on Deadline
An outline can also help keep you on track as well. If you are writing a novel, more likely than not you have some sort of internal or external deadlines to meet. You can use your outline to develop milestones for when you expect key portions of the novel to be completed. You can use these milestones to “sell” your writing plan to editors or agents, so they know what work they can reasonably expect to receive from you and when. You can also use the milestones you develop to guide your own writing efforts, and help you write at a pace that lets you achieve your goals.
When you outline your plot, you can also note where you will have to fill in gaps in your own knowledge with research. For instance, if your novel is going to include a scene inside the Pentagon’s courtyard, you can annotate that you need to do some research on the topic when preparing your outline. Identifying topics you need to research before you start writing your novel will save you time; it may also help improve your writing as well.
Improve Your Creative Decision Making
Mapping out your entire plot in an outline can help you see the entire story as you have envisioned it from beginning to end. Having this holistic story map makes it much easier to make critical decisions that will help you later on, when you are writing. For example, your plot outline can help inform your decision about which point of view to use when writing the story; it may also help you see where you have to add or delete scenes to aid in character development as well. Making informed decisions like this before you actually start writing will save you time and frustration later on.
Detour Around Writer’s Block
When drafting a novel, many writers come to a point where they cannot write anymore; they just can’t see how to get the character or plot from the point where they currently are. An outline can be a tremendous asset in avoiding these situations. If you’re writing your novel from an outline and come to a point where you cannot keep writing, no problem; simply move to another scene further ahead on the outline, and start writing from that point. Doing so will keep you from staring at your computer screen in frustration. Finishing a different scene may also provide you the creative spark you need to go back and finish the part of the novel that gave you problems in the first place.
See Your Story in Time
Having your story’s plot outlined can provide another benefit: it allows you to see how the plot will play out sequentially in time. When you have a clear map of the plot, you can determine how many scenes you need keep the story’s pacing where you want it; the outline will also help you see if you need to add or delete scenes to maintain the desired pace of your novel; this is especially important if you’re writing a thriller. Seeing the entire plot in time can also help you determine where and how to use literary tools, like foreshadowing, to heighten the suspense in your novel as well.
Peace of Mind
You may have developed a terrific premise for a story. However, without an outline, are you sure you can develop that premise into a great novel? Outlining your plot prior to writing can give you the confidence that you have everything you need – characters, setting, and a plot broken into key scenes – to write a memorable thriller. A good outline can save you the heartbreak of writing yourself into a dead end; you’ll know all of the scenes you need to get from the opening line to the last page of your story.
Outlining is a powerful tool that can enhance your writing. If you outline your novel, you can enhance your creativity, and write more efficiently and effectively as well. New writers should definitely try outlining as they prepare to write their first novels; it can make the difference between a memorable thriller and a dead end at chapter one.