do you make an outline when you write a novel?

It’s Thursday morning!  So that must mean it’s time for Writing Wednesday!

This question is from Jaime, who wants to know if I make an outline when I write a novel.

And the answer is yes. And no.  And sort of.

Usually, my outlines are just numbered lists.  Very broad.  The number stands for the chapter, and then I follow it with whatever the main event of that chapter will be.  Ideally–though this doesn’t always happen–I like chapters to build to something.  Just as the book itself is building up to its ending, a chapter can follow that same format.  That sense of things building is always good for the story’s momentum.  Though I certainly have plenty of chapters that just make a bridge between other chapters and events.  

Have you tried making outlines?  Do they help or hinder?  Other questions about structure? Or momentum?

4 Comments

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4 responses to “do you make an outline when you write a novel?

  1. I find an outline is essential after about 100 pages; and I keep revising it and moving elements around as I get toward the end. Then refer to it in the second draft, shifting as necessary. On individual chapters, I feel that there’s an inherent rhythm to each one. First person affects that one way and is easier, I think. In alternating 3rd person, which I’ve been working in, the POV breaks give me difficulties. When is one a chapter break and when is one just a POV change? Sigh.

  2. I agree with you that writing a novel is like reading a novel. The most surprising thing about writing my book has been the places that I’ve gone where I never expected to end up. Its a magical process, new to me and always an adventure.

  3. Detes

    I love that your characters refuse to follow your outline. Good for you to let them wander as they must. I think outlines are essential for non-fiction, but not necessarily for fiction. Your novels have a marvelous flow that may be a result of the strength of the characters and their evolution. As they develop, new possibilities arise and those are bound to be more interesting and true than any you thought up before the novel was started.

  4. I’ll keep this in mind.

    I haven’t expanded to a novel (yet) and I hope to–maybe one day.

    I did make a gigantic file filled with research I did on one character who wouldn’t get out of my head.

    “Maggie” (a nurse) told me about where she lived and her schooling–the cities she has visited, where some of her friends live, her hobbies (knitting, photography)…

    SHE may become a novel one day.

    ~~J

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