So you’ve got an idea for your novel. You’re excited to get it all down, so you sit at your desk and start writing. Halfway through chapter 2, you realize: I have no idea what to write next.
That happened to me recently.
I’d jotted down ideas and a basic premise, but beyond that I had no idea where I wanted my story to go. Being part-pantser, I decided to start writing anyway, thinking I could “fill in the blanks” as I went along.
Without a solid plot, I found myself stuck way too early in the drafting phase. And once I got stuck, I found myself procrastinating and as a result, feeling demotivated and uninspired.
This is where outlining comes in.
Outlining: The Antidote to Writer's Block
Outlining lays out the sequence of events in your book, chapter by chapter. Everyone will have a different way of outlining. Some prefer to keep it simple and only jot down major ideas or scenes. Others do better with more detailed outlines and include every scene, every motivation, every thought from a character.
As with most of the writing craft, there is no right or wrong way to outline.
I prefer more detailed outlines—it helps speed up the writing process and allows me a “bird’s eye view” of the story.
The outline then becomes your blueprint during drafting. It will help you structure your story more efficiently while also having your characters’ actions/behaviors/motivations ready once you begin writing. Most importantly, a solid outline will help you avoid major developmental changes down the line. You don’t want to be on chapter 23 and suddenly think: “Man, why is my character doing this? This doesn’t make sense.” Stick to the outline and use it as your guide.
When to Ignore the Outline
All of this isn’t to say that you should follow your outline faithfully, never veering off course.
Sometimes, your characters will take off on their own the farther along you are in the drafting phase. They might surprise you by doing something you hadn’t thought of before. This is good! This means you have a fully-developed character that has an independent mind; they are not simply reacting to the plot. If you find yourself in this situation, see where your character takes you and recalibrate your outline (if you already have a strong outline, making these changes will go that much more smoothly).
The most important thing to remember: Have a solid outline that you can rely on to make the drafting process easier and avoid writer’s block.
This is a fairly short post, but I’m planning to discuss character development and structure in more detail in the future. Stay tuned!