Do You Need An Outline?

Do you really need an outline? Is that even a question that can be generically answered to fit every writer out there? No, not really. But what I can do is explain the process that has worked for me.

So if the question is: do I need an outline? And for me, that answer is yes, but the outline has to be done in a pretty specific way. The formula for it has been tweaked and redefined through project after project until something has been refined enough to work each time.

My outlines start with the numbers of chapters I’m going to write. This seems counterproductive but it works for me. If I want to write a full length story I know I’m going to do roughly 30 chapters. For a novella, I’m looking at closer to 10. If I’m doing 30 chapters I break them up into 3 chunks of 10 for my acts.

Then I start dividing out my story into chunks. I write out the arcs, the three main arcs, then the overall storylines and everything in between.

Each chapter gets a one paragraph description, 3-5 sentences max. This has been the trickiest part to nail down what works. Too much description and I will end up getting bored with the project. Too little description and I won’t know where the story is going. I find, for me, 3-5 sentences is my butter zone.

I’ve tried the note card method, but it does not work for me. I don’t think of events that need to happen and then make them fluid enough to place them in different orders. Sometimes that does seem easier, but what happens to me when I try that is I make the big events, get the right order, and then the rest of my book is filler.

Filler…filler is death. It kills momentum. It kills the story. It kills the experience for the reader. The purpose of outlining is to kill any filler in my story, while making the narrative flow the correct way.

So, do you need an outline? It depends on the writer, but I do. It keeps me on track, and makes it easier to assign due dates by chapter. It also makes editing easier because I can go back and see what should be there and if the goals of the chapter were then accomplished.

What methods do you use? What works for you? Let us know in the comments and help share tips with your fellow writers.

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