Having experimented with a few ways of structuring and writing novels, gleaned from reading books and implementing strategies, I’ve concluded that outlining is helpful and does pay off.
You have to have a sense of what your story is and where it is going. If you are writing a mystery or romance novel, for example, you have a good idea of who the detective and killer are in a mystery and who wins in the end. Likewise, in a romance novel, you know if the guy will get the girl, or whether the girl gets the guy.
There are other examples too. In westerns and science fiction, you probably begin with one or more bad guys and good guys and can easily determine the outcome. And to a lesser, “iffier” extent, you can pretty much determine the outcome in chic lit.
Developing an outline for the genres mentioned above is not really that difficult, so long as you have a good story and an interesting twist.
On the other hand, if you only know, for example, that you want to write a humorous novel, you may have a bit of a challenge on your hands. You have to determine who the hero or heroine is, the main problem and theme, and the outcome. And you have to combine those elements in an interesting, funny way right from the get-go. For example, in the movie, “What About Bob?” you are almost introduced immediately to the two main characters, Bob, who has a problem, and his newly-appointed psychiatrist, who gets stuck with Bob at the last minute, right before vacation. And while the psychiatrist really wants no part of Bob, Bob wants him to be available at his beck and call.
If you thought about writing a story about a psychiatrist and his or her patient, you could try outlining your story’s development or sequence or completing a few character sketches first. As you worked, however, you would soon discover that the story’s details keep changing, and if you change a few things in the beginning, you’ve virtually changed your entire plot, and have to go back to square one.
I also tried character sketches and outlines, working several months with each, but never quite managed to kick off a good plot. What I do now, and have some success with, is go right back to the basics and first figure out the beginning and end of my story. For example, in the end of my present novel-in-progress, I know that my main character, a laid-back, good-for-nothing, ex-mobster of a grubber, will overcome his problems of getting a decent income in the end. All I have to do now is figure out how he’s going to overcome everything and everyone who stands in his way and reach his goal. I was ready to outline and am now up to Chapter 14. I know where I’ve been in this novel and where this novel is going, saving myself months of work and aggravation and frustration.
The moral is that if you know exactly how your novel ends, you will find that outlining the rest of it is highly effective, especially when you keep asking yourself, “And then what?”
About Dorothy Zjawin
To help herself and others overcome the fear of getting ideas and developing them into articles and stories, Dorothy Zjawin’s writing website, [http://www.profitable-pen.com] focuses on using journals to jumpstart those larger writing projects.