To outline, or not to outline, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of an unplanned novel
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
By outlining them and so ending them
Forgive me, but that was fun to write.
Many, perhaps even most, writing experts (regardless of genre) will tell you the most critical part of any novel is the outline. They are absolutely correct.
Others, albeit a minority, will tell you that an outline is unnecessary, a constraint on creativity and the storyline, and it is better to march boldly into the unknown, chapter by unplanned chapter. They are also absolutely correct.
Whichever way you to decide to go, simply make sure it is absolutely correct for you. If an outline is not restrictive, but rather provides direction and guidance, a sense of form and comfort as you tackle your novel, and then allows you the freedom of exploring each predetermined chapter, that’s exactly what you should do.
If, instead, as I did with my first three novels — “Coyote Courage,” “Coyote Creek” and “Coyote Canyon” (I love alliteration, sometimes to a fault) — you prefer tackling each chapter as it comes and only discovering what comes next as you’re writing it, then that’s how you should approach your writing.
Perhaps you prefer to know what the final chapter will be before you begin and write your way toward it. I did this with one of my books (“Coyote Canyon”), and I found the experience exhilarating, though at times a bit restrictive.
Again, the key, as it always is when writing, is to find what works best for you. You may know the right method already, or you may need to experiment with a variety of approaches before determining which one best fits your style. Beware those who tell you there is only one to write a novel — they’re wrong.
As I said, my first three fiction Westerns were written without a net. Not only did I not have an outline, but I also did not know from chapter to chapter what was going to happen next. The process worked well, for me. And yet, with my most recent book, the fourth in the Brock Clemons series, “Battle on the Plateau,” I tried doing an outline. I wanted to test and compare the two starkly different styles and, so far, have found developing an outline to be both challenging and rewarding. It worked, at least for me, but only because I used it as a guideline and didn’t feel constrained to stick to it as it was originally written.
In the end, do what works for you, recognizing that it may change over time.
I wish you good writing, and if you have a question or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].
Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!