When it comes to novel outlining, there is a raucous debate amongst authors. Some writers, the so-called pantsers, scoff at outlining, and prefer to just put pen to paper and write. Other writers swear by the process. The debate between the pantsers and planners will likely go on forever.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, there is no doubt that outlining can be a valuable tool. If you’re a new writer, or someone who has hit dead ends when trying to write organically with no map to guide you, maybe you should give outlining a try. There are many benefits to outlining a novel, so let’s look at a few of them here.
See in Time
One of the greatest advantages of novel outlining is seeing the entire plot laid out sequentially. If you know everything that is going to happen and when, you can constantly think about it as you are writing. It will ultimately help you stay focused, since you do not have to stop and think about what happens next. Seeing the entire plot laid out can also help you use literary devices, like foreshadowing, to heighten readers’ interest in your story as well.
Identify Gaps for Further Research
As you complete key portions of your outline – character development, the setting, and a plot map – you will likely have a very good idea of how you want the story to proceed; however, you’ll almost certainly identify key gaps where more research will be required before you actually sit down and start writing. For example, if the setting for your thriller is war-torn Afghanistan in 2002, you may need to review magazine articles or other non-fiction works to get an understanding of what that it was like there at that time. Your protagonist may be an intelligence analyst; you may have to do research to make the character believable to the type of readers you are targeting. An outline will help you identify those shortfalls, so you do research and have all the information you need when it comes time to write.
Take a Detour Around Writer’s Block
An outline can help you avoid so-called writer’s block, and keep writing your novel. If you develop a good plot outline, you will have mapped out all of the scenes and the sequence in which they will occur. If you come to a point where you get stuck when actually writing your story, no worries; look at your outline, and move forward or backward and start working on another scene you’ve mapped out. Doing so will help keep your novel on track. It may also help you creatively resolve whatever problem you had with the aforementioned scene, allowing you to return and complete it.
Great Aid for Story Pacing
Good thrillers are all about controlling the level of tension and suspense for the audience. A detailed plot line can be a very useful aid for developing effective pacing. You outline will enable you to “see” all of the scenes in a story; it will also highlight key events, like plot and pinch points, and the climax. By viewing all of these scenes holistically on your outline, you’ll be able to determine if you need to add, combine, or delete scenes in order to decrease or heighten the tension in your story. Having an outline makes this task much easier than trying to write organically.
Quick Reference for Other Work
A common trend in fiction today is to unite multiple works in a common universe. Pop culture is replete with examples: the Marvel cinematic (and loosely connected television) universe, James Patterson’s Alex Cross novels, the expansive world and multitude of characters within Game of Thrones. If you intend your novel to take place in a setting where future stories will occur, you’ll be able to reference your outlines, research, and other work you’ve done when it comes time to write those novels.
Easy to Review
If you have an editor, agent, mentor, muse or trusted agent you like to bounce ideas off of, an outline can be a great tool. A quick review of your outline by your “outside set of eyes” can confirm that you’re on track much faster than trying to read through an entire novel. If your mentor identifies issues with your story in the outline, it will also save you considerable time, too; it is easier to fix problems on your outline than it is to rewrite your novel.
There are many benefits to outlining. Mapping out your novel before you start writing can save you time, improve your story’s pacing, and aid in review and research, too. And if you plan to write other novels using elements from the current story, your outline may be able to assist you in writing those as well. So if you’re just starting out as a writer, consider giving an outlining a try; it may help you craft the next great thriller!