Wednesday, September 19, 2012

To Outline or Not To Outline

Blank book

When I got the idea for my first manuscript I was pretty psyched.  This was going to be my ticket to success!  I knew the start, I knew the ending, now I just had to write it.  So I started to write, and write, and write some more. I had about five chapters down when I attended the SCBWI Niagara  conference and received notes on my first chapter and synopsis.

The notes all around were invaluable but it was the note on my synopsis that really hit home.  "This doesn't sound fresh".  My first thought was well of course not, you don't understand, there's so much that's not on the page, I only wrote the synopsis in a day, blah, blah, blah...
Girl frustrated at computer

But lucky for me, one of the things I pride myself on is my ability to chuck my ego at the door (I'll even grind it to a pulp if asked nicely).  The real reason why it didn't sound fresh was because I didn't know where it was going, who the characters were and why they were doing what they were doing.  Because I didn't have a sense of the overall story, I couldn't answer basic questions like the ones asked here and here.  I couldn't effectively communicate what the story was in the synopsis.

So I decided that before I continued to write my manuscript, I was going to finalize my synopsis.  Fast forward four months and several edits and revisions later, that synopsis has turned into my outline and bible for my novel.  It's also resulted in a number of things including the scrapping of several chapters, the shrinking of the scope of the story and a newly defined antagonist just to name a few. 

Was this exercise beneficial?  Will it help me to create a better manuscript? Will I be a millionaire with a six figure advance?  Yes. Yes. We'll wait and see.  Overall though, what it has allowed me to do is communicate my story better, write chapters that advance the plot and save time that may have been wasted developing ideas and moving in directions which weren't vital to the story. It's also helped me to get feedback on the story at a high level and fast.  There are a number of individuals who've graciously given me their time to provide feedback and comments.  Reading a ten page outline at this early stage is way easier than reading one hundred pages of a poorly drafted manuscript.  As this stage, I'm more interested in issues like voice and pacing than grammar and sentence structure. 

Is outlining for everyone?  I envy those with the talent to put fingers to keyboards and blast out a manuscript without one.  But for me, I wouldn't have it any other way. 


  1. So, I just finished my second book and I had an outline for it (unlike my first) I sort of stuck to the outline. haha. But having one definitely helped.

    In fact, I already have part of the outline for a third book and I'm thinking I want to really get that done before I dive into writing.

    When I first started writing (about five years ago) I didn't think I'd ever be the outlining type cause I'm such a pantster. But, book by book, I'm moving more and more in that direction. :)

  2. That's fantastic Tamara. Congratulations on finishing your second book! Glad to hear that the outlining is helping. Looking forward to hearing more about your progress.

  3. Great post! Outlining is tough when those awesome ideas and characters are clamoring to be told. But it absolutely pays off in the end! Fingers crossed for that six figure advance!!! Sounds like you are well on your way :)