BookWorks' own "Dear Editor", Betty Kelly Sargent, a 30+ year publishing veteran, is back with her latest column where she answers reader questions, this one about outlining.
Should I outline my novel or just start writing and see where the story takes me?
For most authors writing a novel without an outline would be like trying to drive from Chicago to Tucson without a map. You might get there eventually but at what cost?
Outlining Is Your Map
In Write Away, Elizabeth George writes, “I have always had to have an outline: the plot in advance…I do two things,” she says. “I create a step outline.” This is a series of scenes. “Then I expand it to a running plot outline…a present tense stream-of-conscious affair…just firing away at computer keys, writing down what I see happening in each scene on my step outline.”
John Searles, author of Strange But True, works from a loose outline. “It’s always a very fluid process as I discover what works and what doesn’t in crafting the story,” he says, “So the outline changes many times as I move forward with the writing.”
Outlining Isn't for Everyone
Not all writers rely on an outline. In The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life, Ann Patchett writes, “During the months (or years) it takes me to put my ideas together I don’t take notes or make outlines…I get everything set in my head and then I go.”
Each writer is different and it is up to you, of course. Most of the successful novelists I have worked with over the years have used fairly detailed outlines. They were in a hurry to get to Tucson.
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