Today, we’re getting into the nitty gritty of writing. Whether you should outline or “pants” your way through. “Pants” is pretty much the nice way of saying you’re BSing your way through a novel. And that’s totally fine, some people like to BS their ways through books, for a first draft that’s totally fine.
But, beyond that,I’m going to tell you why you need that outline.
I know, some of you are probably rolling your eyes thinking, “I BS my way through my stories all the time.” But I bet you really don’t.
Outlines are a great way to get an idea of where you book is going to go. Right now, in the middle of working on this new draft of The Assassin, I have no outline, I’m just trying to see where it goes, and it’s not going. Outlines are the flashlight on the dark path of finishing your novel (I know that’s depressing, but work with me).
The cool thing about outlines is that you can make them as detailed or as undetailed as possible. And yes, they can totally change. Mine usually are just a list of three or four things I want to happen in the chapter. So, for instance, the first chapter of The Assassin is something like this;
- Cassie goes to her first day at the FBI
- Meets Jessica and Kevin
- Takes note of their relationship and wonders how she will fit in.
See? Simple enough. You can get a little more detailed than that, obviously, but this is simple enough that I can make sure to get all the points across in the chapter and still have room for more information if needed.
My suggestion? It’s what I use. Pick three or four main parts you want to happen in the chapter, but be open to the story changing in ways you make not expect. This allows the outline to morph and becoming this breathing document that can grow with you.
There’s a few other things I like to do before I get to outlining my novel though, that I feel help the story.
- Make character outlines. Mine are usually simple demographics like hair color and height and what not, then I go to pinterest and find pictures that I can associate with the character.
- Investigate the city the story is taking place in. Setting is so crucial to a story, whether you realize it or not, which is why you need to pick your book’s location early on.
- I also usually obessess over ten different plot ideas and how crazy they are before I really settle down and get serious.
Here’s why I prefer outlining during the first draft though – first drafts are messy. You’re really getting to know your characters and what to expect. If you don’t know what journey you’re taking them on, that just makes more of a mess.
And think about this, even if you say you’re a pantser, and flying by your seat, are you really not thinking about what this moment will lead to in the next chapter? That’s outlining right there! Mental outlining is a great place to start when it comes to outlining!
Outlining is all about anticipating what’s going to happen next, and we already naturally do that, so trust me, it helps if you take the time and sit down to at least figure out your main plot points. Even if you’re a pantser, just try a little bit of outlining and see where it’ll take you.
You’ll save time and your characters will love you!