Writing a First Draft: To Outline or Not to Outline

There is no right or wrong way to begin a novel. Some authors like to begin with a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline, some, and I count myself among these, find an outline restrictive and just dive straight into the story. Recently, at the request of a publisher, I had to create an outline for the new book I am working on and although I found putting the plot down on paper to be an arduous task, I was surprised how helpful it was for me to identify the main plot twists in my new story.

Because most of my books are character, not plot driven, I always have the sense that, like a Seinfeld episode, nothing really happens; my characters move through their lives without leaping from airplanes, chasing down bad guys or solving crimes. Yet, this is simplistic and not true at all – things happen to and because of my characters – huge life-changing events, like in The Perfect Cut when Brian must struggle with his sister’s death, or smaller, but difficult to deal with problems, like the pressure Cole feels to be perfect in the darkness between the stars.

Know where the road leads to

Actioni contrariam semper et æqualem esse reactionem: To Every Action there is an equal and opposite reaction. By creating a plot twist outline, it helped me to identify the motivations behind the decisions, often deceivingly small, but life-altering, made by my characters. It helped me to get to know them better, because I spent hours thinking about who they are and what makes them do what they do.

In the end, although I was reluctant to write an outline, it didn’t do me any harm at all and may actually have helped me with my writing process.

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