Pantsers & Planners

Do You Really Need an Outline for your Novel?

We learn how to create an outline when we are in elementary school – it’s been ingrained into us as necessary, but is it something you really have to do in order to create an amazing story?

Whether you should outline your novel or not isn’t such a black and white answer, it really depends on what works best for you. I have done research on different methods of outlining, and how people write a story without creating any outline at all, and for myself I am a bit of both.

Let’s first get into the outlines themselves – what types there are, and what they can do for you. You may have heard about a specific technique called the Snowflake Method, which was created by Randy Ingermanson and is a fairly popular method. There are ten steps to the Snowflake Method, the basics of these steps are as follows:

  1. Develop one sentence to describe your book.
  2. Now write five more sentences to build on your first one, consisting of conflicts that will occur in the novel and summarize your novel further.
  3. Getting more in-depth, write one whole page on your main characters – truly breaking down what makes your character who they are.
  4. Go back to those five sentences you wrote and expand upon each one until you have a whole page written.
  5. Write a synopsis about the story the way a few of your main characters experience it.
  6. Take those five pages you developed from your five sentences, and turn each one into four pages. (This is getting repetitive)
  7. It’s time to go hard-core on your characters now – make charts, lists, and whatever else you need to in order to flesh out who each character is.
  8. Using a single line sentence, develop each scene of your novel.
  9. Expand the single sentences you created for the scenes in your novel into a whole paragraph. (Apparently this step is often not used)
  10. Write the first draft of your novel! (Finally)

This process is way too much for me, I feel like it would kill all the creative energy and thoughts that I may organically have about my novel. Even amazing authors such as Meg Cabot feel that going in-depth into an outline can kill your novel before you’ve even really began.

The Boy is Back by Meg Cabot

Alas, don’t fret my darlings! If you still feel it’s incredibly important for you to create an outline, there are less mind-numbing ways to go about it. Have you ever heard about mind-mapping? It’s a great tool for a lot of things, but many authors are utilizing it for outlining their novels now. Mind-mapping involves creating a central idea (your title), and branching out to other topics, and then breaking those topics down into other smaller ideas. There is nothing linear about creating a mind map, you jump around however you please.


Image result for mind map novel outline

I’ve discovered software that you can use to make it easier to develop a mind-map of your own, and they make it super simple to turn your mind-map into an outline for your novel. I haven’t tried this program out yet myself, but I know I will definitely be downloading it in the near future to give it a shot. Mindomo is available for FREE, but you can purchase the premium version if you like the software and you would like to have a lot more features. Not only does Mindomo make it simple to create a mind-map, but it has a TON of integration features that  are included with their premium product and would be so handy, such as- Office365, LMSs: Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, itslearning, Schoology, Google Drive, DropBox, FTP. With that integration list, it’s worth your time to check it out.

Speaking of software, there is another program I am going to try out this week called More specific to the novel-writing community, is a world building software designed for writers and they pride themselves on being the best out there. This software will help you create:

  • Characters
  • Universes
  • Locations
  • Items
  • Creatures
  • Groups
  • Races
  • Religions
  • Magic
  • Languages
  • Templates

This is only a small amount of insight into what this program has to offer so I highly suggest you check it out for yourself!

Now that I’ve listed a few various methods you can approach to creating an outline, do you really need them? Do you really need to create an outline? I think you will have to answer this for yourself through trial and error, and as proof as to why I believe there is no strict rules on this – I’ll leave you with two quotes, from two very famous authors.

I’m a fanatic about outlining. It’s gonna make whatever you’re writing better, you’ll have fewer false starts, and you’ll take a shorter amount of time. I write them over and over again. You read my outline and it’s like reading a book; you really get the story, even though it’s condensed. Each chapter will have about a paragraph devoted to it. But you’re gonna get the scene, and you’re gonna get the sense of what makes the scene work.
-James Patterson


The basics: forget plot, but remember the importance of ‘situation’

I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible.
-Stephen King

What kind of writer are you – a Pantser or a Planner?
(FYI – A Pantser is a writer who flies by the seat of their pants)

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