Seen as my blogging has pretty much ground to a halt these past couple of weeks due to my lack of internet, I decided it was time to devote some much needed time to my fiction writing. In my New Year’s Resolution post I wrote about how this year I wanted to start writing a novel, so I felt that now was the perfect time to give it a try.
This isn’t my first attempt at novel writing: I’ve been starting (and failing to finish) novels since I was a teenager, and my most recent attempt was in 2014 when I entered NaNoWriMo and managed to get 42,000 words of a dystopian story down.
However, I’ve never yet completed a first draft, and in my mind that’s due to a lack of planning. By nature I’m firmly in the ‘pantser’ writer camp (as opposed to a plotter) and I tend to get so far by just winging it before I’m too deep in plot holes and have tied myself into so many knots that I decide it isn’t worth continuing. Therefore this time I’ve decided to try a new approach and properly plot out my entire novel before I even think about starting. At the same time I do worry this will take away some of the magic of writing: one of the things I love so much about writing fiction is the sense of going on the ride with the characters and not really knowing where you’ll end up, and I worry that too much planning could take this away.
So I’m interested to know how other writers approach outlining their novels, and if they even bother. Do you prefer to write off the top of your head, or follow a strict plan? Here’s what I feel are the pros and cons of outlining, and I’d love to know your thoughts!
- You know where you’re heading.
If you were planning on visiting somewhere you’d never been before, would you just set out and hope for the best? Because that seems like a pretty great way to get yourself hopelessly lost, and the same goes for novel writing. With no idea of the destination, how are you going to get there? I’ve found in the past that writing like this can often result in nothing much happening. My characters just end up milling around aimlessly whilst I try and figure out what to do with them, and the plot isn’t being driven anywhere because there’s no where to drive it. It is possible to just start and work it all out as you go along, but I’m starting to think that’s it’s probably easier to decide on the ending at the idea stage.
- It helps prevent writer’s block.
Often the thing that has ground my many failed projects to a halt is simply not knowing what to write next. A lack of direction in my writing means I reach a point where I just don’t know how to go on, and this in turn can often be the start of the dreaded writer’s block.
- You can hopefully catch plot holes before you write them.
It stands to reason that working out your entire plot before you start should help prevent any plot holes or incongruencies as you go along. If you know what’s happening every step of the way then it should surely all work out according to plan…right?
- You get less spontaneity in your writing.
Seen as fiction writing is a creative activity there’s a lot to be said for spontaneity and just going with it. Part of creativity is being in the moment and creating something from nothing, and writing is no different: you start with a blank page and create something out of it. If instead of a blank page you start with a few notes per chapter then it doesn’t seem quite the same; it can just feel like expanding the plan.
- It can feel confining.
Whilst planning helps you know where your story is going, at the same time there is something confining about having it all set out before you begin. Whilst you are free to deviate, by writing a plan it can seem like you are committing to going in a certain direction with the story and there’s a risk that you’ll stick to it regardless, even when it isn’t quite working out as you’d hope.
- You might not follow it…and it could end up being a good thing.
It’s entirely possible that you may plan out your entire novel, start writing and just completely disregard it, and that’s just fine! But when you have wasted precious writing time creating a plan you aren’t going to use, what’s the point of doing it?
So do you outline or not? What do you feel are the benefits or negatives of outlining?