I have written three books and I’m currently writing two more. During the process of these five books, I’ve written them three different ways: Pre-outlined, no outline, and outline as I go.
The first book I wrote, “The Blood of Three,” I didn’t outline at all. I made it up as I wrote it. If you ask any authors out there, the majority of them will tell you to NOT do this. “Always outline your book before you write it,” they’ll say. Well, when I wrote my first book, I hadn’t done any research on “how to write a book” or even tips and tricks to help you throughout. I wanted to write a book, so I did. Writing an outline before I started my rough draft didn’t cross my mind at all. I just jumped right in and I don’t regret it.
If you don’t write an outline, you need to at least have a general idea of where you want to take your novel. Know your characters and their backstories, more importantly, the protagonist(s)’, and your antagonist(s)’. What do they want and how badly do they want it? you’ll be setting yourself up for a messy setup if you don’t know the answers to these questions. When I was writing “The Blood of Three” I knew what I wanted to do with the plot, I knew what characters were going to play a big part in it, and I knew their backstories and reasons for their ambition.
There are some pros and cons about not outlining a book. A cool thing about not outlining your story is that there might be more surprising plot twists and reveals because you will be coming up with them as you reach certain situations. You are essentially facing the story just as a reader would–you don’t know what’s going to come next and that’s what I love most about not outlining. It’s fun and a challenging way to write. A bad thing about not outlining though is the fact that you might face a lot of plot holes and a lot of hard work.
If you are halfway through the book and come up with a better idea about the plot and realize that you will need to change a subplot or scene earlier on in the book, it can be difficult because you may have to do a lot of rewriting. Changing one thing may lead to having to change ten others. Being halfway through an outline and wanting to change something, would be a lot easier because you’d probably only have to change a few bullet points, in comparison to having to rewrite tens of thousands of words.
Another challenge I faced with not outlining is that I would forget about some small subplots that I created earlier on in the book, and wouldn’t realize until I was three quarters finished with the whole story. Those subplots could have been worked on or concluded earlier on. Having an outline makes it a lot easier to keep track of every single plot and detail.
Now, if you want an outline, you can go about it two ways: You can completely outline your book in whole before starting your rough draft, or you can outline a chunk at a time as you write your rough draft.
As I’ve mentioned before, outlining your book as a whole beforehand will help you keep track of all your plots and details. You will be able to make sure you aren’t leaving plot holes and you can plan how each plot will be worked on throughout the story, in addition to what scenes happen in what order.
Creating your outline can take as long or as quick as you want it to. A book I’m currently writing titled “The Divided,” I completely outlined beforehand and it took me around three months. I outlined it in detail though, so I made notes on how I wanted to explain things and even some of the exact dialogue I wanted to write. Your outline doesn’t have to take this long, nor does it have to be in that much detail. Your outline can consist of anything you want it to. It can be short and sweet, just naming off all your plots and subplots in order and notes of scenes throughout that you want to take place. It can contain anything you want it to.
As much as I love creating a whole outline before writing the rough draft, I also do love outlining chunks of the story as I go. What I mean when I say this, is you can outline a chapter at a time or a fourth of the story for example before you start the rough draft. Then, once you write out the first draft to the extent of the book that you outlined, you can then continue the outline another chapter or two before working on your rough draft again. I’m currently doing this with my book titled “Getaways.” Although this way does seem a little complicated, I enjoy it. However, just like starting a book without an outline, you need to have a general idea of where you are heading with the overall story and plot. What I do is this: over time, I will write down scenes or situations in a “notes” document that I want the characters to face. And I will write detailed outlines by the chapter. Once I’m done writing a chapter and go to outline the next chapter, I will look at my document of notes and see if I want to incorporate any of my ideas into that incoming chapter or if I think it will be better off later on in the story. In the notes document, I do have all the scenes and situations in the order I think I want them in. Now, this document of notes is a very broad idea board. I don’t put in details like I do an outline. I just list phrases of dialogue that I want to use or a scene/ situation idea. That’s it.
Whichever way you decided to face your book before writing the rough draft is completely up to you–all three ways I listed work out in the end. Even then, you aren’t limited to the ways I described these tactics. Be as broad or as detailed in your outline and works as you want–it is you who will be using it after all. Do what works best for you.