I know loads of writers. I don’t necessarily hang out with them, or even like them. But writers do occasionally attend conferences – even well-known writer such as Steven King, and Mary Higgins Clark. And I take these opportunities to question them about techniques they employ.
Because it fascinates me.
Personally I do not write any fiction or nonfiction without an outline—at least not if it longer than about ten pages. I feel very strongly that in a mystery (my choice genre) clues must be scattered throughout the novel, so that when the reader finally comes to the reveal, it’s a moment of revelation that allows the reader think back, and realize the clues were there all along. If that is not done, in my opinion, than the reader is grossly cheated. And the most effective way to ensure this happens, I have found, is to utilize some form of outlining.
[I exclude from this discussion writers who are able to visualize the entire plot in their minds. Surely it is a kind of outlining. More power to them. I envy them.]
To me, writing a novel is like building a house. If there is not basic structure, the house is unstable and risks an eventual, actual, absolute, and sometimes irrevocable collapse.
That said, I know many very successful writers who do not use outlines—at all. These are often the same writers whom I see running around in a panic trying to figure out who done it—after they have already completed with their book! They are often times as not frantic to come to some reasonable conclusion. But only with the assistance of others.
All that said, both methods seem to work out fairly well. Most mystery writers, I have found, do not ape the very intricate work of a detective series on TV. Or a movie. Those works are usually beautifully structured without an extraneous word.
However, given the novel’s novel form, a writer has much greater leeway to ramble, and take a journey wherever the characters shall lead.
Essentially, when it comes to age old question “To outline or not to outline?” the choice is entirely yours. Go with what you feel most comfortable with.
Or why not push the boundaries a little? Why not try both?
To Outline or Not to Outline?
Every Work a House of Cards
by Lilith Moon
Black Lotus by Lita Lepie
"Possibly one of the most artful colloquial narratives of the past decade."
- E. Cohen
"My only criticism is that it wasn’t long enough..."
"...film noir in a book..."
"Awareness of race, gender and sexual orientation shades [Black Lotus] with great depth..."