The most asked question in preparing to write a novel is probably: to outline or not to outline. Throughout the NaNo forums one will find this question repeated in many different place and in many different ways. The problem is no one can tell you whether you should outline or not because it is probably one of the most personal things about preparing to write a novel. Others can only give you their opinion and share with you what they choose to do but ultimately, like everything in life, it is up to you. I’ve decided to try to help with answering the question of whether to outline or not though. I’ll give you options and my first hand experience with both outlining and not and you can choose what’s best for you.
First of all there are many different types of outlines you can use if you choose to. They range from the snowflake method, to the storyboard method to a method that I made up from different types of outlines. Following is a brief summary of each of these methods.
Start by summarizing your novel in one sentence. It is best to keep it short and not to use any character names in this sentence. This sentence will eventually become your hook for your sales pitch for the book, if you choose to try to get it published. For example a good sentence for my novel might be: Armageddon hinges on a small time teacher who gets abducted by angels and demons.
Next you will create a full paragraph around that sentence that explains your novel. Again you will want to elaborate on your novel’s premise. A typical paragraph for this style of outline is five sentences long.
After getting the general idea of your novel down you will do the first two steps again for each of your characters.
You will then expand on each of the sentences in your story paragraph. You will turn those sentences into another paragraph. Then you will do the same for your character paragraphs. After that you will make each of those story paragraphs into a full page and the character paragraphs into a full character chart. Essentially this method has you simply expanding on these items repeatedly. It is best for something like NaNoWriMo to just do the first paragraphs and follow through with the rest of the method during November.
If you want a full explanation of this method check out this website: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/snowflake.php
This is a simple method of outlining. Many authors use different methods of keeping track of the boards ranging from post it notes to excel spreadsheets. All one has to do to use this method is break down the novel by scene. You write a one line explanation of each scene on whichever medium you choose then you expand on these sentences when you begin the process of writing your novel. This can be slightly difficult to keep track of but it is recommended that you use this method when editing so you can focus on each piece of the novel. Some will use colored pencils for these notes to differentiate between the beginning, climax and resolution as well as the protagonist and antagonist.
The method I use for outlining is, as I said before, a combination of different methods. I like to call it The Lucky 13 method. First you break down your novel into thirteen chapters. You write a title for each chapter that gives a general idea of what the chapter will be about. Once you have your chapter titles you start with each title and break the chapter into thirteen scenes that you want to be sure to include. I usually write a few sentences about each scene just depending on how much information I will need to remind myself of while writing. Now you have thirteen chapters with thirteen scenes for each chapter. When you start to write your novel you will simply expand on each scene.
Obviously I would recommend my method because it is the easiest way for me to write but some might like the other methods better. What you have to do is choose which one you think will give you the most creative outlet. Many people worry about stifling their creativity if they use an outline but you can make your outline however detailed you want and if necessary you can narrow all of the methods down to bare minimum which will allow you to stay on track but to have as much creative freedom as you want throughout the story. I have used an outline once before while doing NaNo and that once is the only time out of five tries that I actually finished my novel and liked what I wrote.
Side note: If it seems I have ripped off another method in what I believe to be an original creation please let me know because this is the first time I’m sharing this method and I don’t want to rip anyone off. Good luck with your novels whether or not you decide to outline.
Ciao! Bella Gente.