It never takes me long to put together an outfit. Once I decide what to where, I can find each item in a matter of seconds because my closet is not only organized by type of clothing (short sleeve, long sleeve, pants, and sweatshirts), it’s also color-coded. I am an organizing freak.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that I like to outline my novels. I actually wrote my first one free-style, but after that I had a hard time keeping track of characters and settings. After two frustrating attempts at my second manuscript, I started an outline. Talk about a time saver!
Before the outline I tried two times to write a novel. The problem was that I kept running into plot holes. I filled them with bits and pieces of random story lines, but after a couple of chapters I’d slip deeper into the hole because I didn’t actually fill the holes with anything concrete. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d discovered the holes early on, but I was 45,000 words into the novel before I discovered a mess that I couldn’t clean. I didn’t even try – I just moved the whole document into my ‘maybe later’ file and started over.
As if scratching it wasn’t bad enough, I made the same mistake a second time. By the time you move another 45,000 words into a file you’ve renamed ‘what was I thinking?’ you have two reoccurring thoughts: 1 – I should quit now and 2 – something HAS to change!
I went with Option 2 and re-evaluated my technique. That meant looking at my article writing. The biggest difference (other than length of the manuscripts) was that I outlined every single article. I hadn’t even considered it for my novel. I decided to give it a try. Sure enough I not only finished the manuscript, but I’m almost done with the final edit – and in less time than it took me to write and scrap the original versions!
I’m not the only person who’s discovered the time saving wonders of the outline. Author Laurie Alice Eakes started outlining at someone else’s suggestion: I never outlined until I went to grad school for writing and my mentor/thesis advisor said I should only write one draft and challenged me to do it. Since I had limited time to turn in the final draft of my thesis novel due to a cross-country move, I tried it. It worked beautifully.
For Ally Carter, it’s more about keeping ideas straight: I used to be a [seat-of-the] panster. I switched because it helped me organize my thoughts better.
So how exactly does one outline a novel? Stop back next week for some examples on how others do it!