This week is dedicated to preparing your novel before you start it, or “plotting.” The third step: make a plot outline.
I keep this outline simple. Boy meets girl, boy can’t be with girl, boy sacrifices everything to get girl, boy and girl live happily ever after. The more thorough you can make it, the better. The outline for Hunger became ten pages.
Some people make changes, get into the book, and realize they want to change everything so they abandon it. I recommend just making a new one. If your outline makes you feel too restricted, make it simpler. Take out the details so you have blanks to fill in.
I make many changes to the outline as I write, but no matter how flexible you make it, it will always be an important foundation.
One thing I love about an outline is when I get ideas faster than I can write the chapters, I can scribble them down. I’ll add quotes, dialogue, or themes just to remember them.
I also write in where there’s a gap in the story or where I have a question and highlight it in red. Then I know to get back to it later.
And here’s the thing; eventually, you will have to make a chapter outline anyway. At some point in a novel you have to look at all your scenes objectively and decide what to keep, what to cut, what to add, and how to arrange it all. If you’re a pantser, you do this after writing your chapters. If you’re a plotter, you do it before. Personally, I'd rather do it before.
I didn’t make an outline for Sacred Fire and I made one for Hunger, and I can’t tell you what a difference it makes. It was awful being half-way through my book and then asking myself, “So… where am I going with this?” Having an outline beforehand helped keep the book structured and fluid.
Seriously, I swear by outlines.