To Outline or Not to Outline

I’m a person who makes lists and crosses things off when I’ve completed them.  It makes me feel positive about what I’ve accomplished when I can see each item marked off that long list.  In fact, I make a lot of lists.  It comes from working in the corporate world, specifically in the accounting area, that I found out quickly that lists and outlines were the best way for me to stay on target and to finish projects within the deadline.

So… the big question is… “Should you completely outline your novel or not?”

I love asking other writers if they outline their novel first or jump right into chapter one and never look back.  And truthfully, I’ve received answers that are almost split right down the middle of this debate.

People seem to ask me quite frequently if I outline my stories or not.  My answer is always the same – yes, I create a complete outline of my story before I begin writing the actual chapters. 

Why?  It makes the chapter writing part a breeze and you don’t have to do as many rewrites.   It’s a blueprint, roadmap, or snapshot of your entire story.  Basically, the completion of your book takes less time with a completed outline. 

Does it stifle your story and creativity doing a complete outline?  No way, because you can change anything you want along the way.  It’s just really nice to have an outlined first draft of your story.  That way you completely know what’s working and what isn’t, you can change a portion of your story, add a new character, or ax part of the storyline that isn’t working.  You can do all of this before you begin writing the chapters.  It doesn’t get any better than that.  

These are my 7 basic outline areas that I use for all my projects:

1. Character lists with a complete background from physical characteristics to internal and external goals.  It resembles a type of rap sheet of everything that I can create for each of the main and supporting characters.  Minor characters just have a few sentences, but they are still important too.

2. Settings

3. Freestyle of the plot outline with the beginning, middle, and end.

4. Timeline of crime and character backgrounds necessary to the plot.    

5. Research is one of the most important things for any story whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.  I research everything that I can think and then even a little bit more.  It’s great because even if you don’t use some of your research in one story you will probably be able to use it in another.

6. Story evolution that incorporates the conflicts, struggles, and resolutions.  This helps me to be able to see if there is enough tension and that the story moves forward at a good pace.  It’s very helpful in writing thrillers to make sure that the tension is escalating.

7. Finally, I decide how many chapters I’m going to write to achieve my story goal. I then put all the information from the above steps into a chronological sequence, which will eventually be my finished chapters.

Creating a complete outline may not be for every writer, but I find that it works for me.  I would love to hear your comments on if you should outline or not.

Jennifer Chase
Award Winning Author & Criminologist

Book & Crime Talk:
Books: Compulsion = Dead Game = Silent Partner = Screenwriting

About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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4 Responses to To Outline or Not to Outline

  1. I wish I could outline, I really do. And sometimes I manage a bit of one, but I’m just no good at it. My writing is like my recipe drawer: a bit of a discovery.

    Kudos for the great post.


  2. Thanks Thea! I feel out of touch if I can’t see progress… But I find that my outlines are getting shorter now on my fourth novel. I still like a loose roapmap to keep myself on track, but I love taking those less traveled roads too 🙂


  3. I have done it both ways, and writing an outline is a huge advantage – it ensures you’ve thought through all the points, and done your homework. I use an algorithm approach on complicated stories, or just write three or four summary paragraphs on the more linear, but without an outline, it takes what seems like twice as long to get to the point, and there’s a lot of extraneous verbiage generated I could have just canned at the front end. In short, outlines are a must.


  4. I quite agree. I find that I’m developing a better way to outline that works for me the more I write. I feel that if you outline then you have less rewrites — saving time in the long run.

    Thanks for your comments!


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