For the last few days of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep, we are going to consider how to best get your novel onto the page. Today let’s explore whether you want to outline or not.


Do you need to outline your novel? Do you want to?

Whether or not to outline a novel before writing it is a highly individual choice.


Some people avoid outlines at all costs. People who abhor advance planning call themselves discovery writers or pantsers (because they write by the seat of their pants). Pantsers find having an outline — or at least knowing the ending — kills their creativity. The advantage of the pantser approach is that the story builds on itself organically. The disadvantages are that pantsers can lose their way and get stuck in the middle, or have to rewrite extensively during revision.


Others say they would never be able to finish a novel without an outline. Writers who outline prior to starting a novel call themselves plotters. They develop an extensive plan of how the novel will come together before writing a single word. The advantage is that they can focus on creating scenes rather than the whole story. In fact, with a good outline they can write the scenes out of order and still keep the story growing. They are also less likely to have to revise heavily. The disadvantage is that if they follow a plot structure too rigidly, the resulting novel may feel formulaic.

The two camps sound diametrically opposed, but if you look more closely you will see the two processes have a great deal of overlap. Most pantsers have done some planning, although perhaps only in their heads. Most plotters find themselves rewriting their outlines at some point and sometimes abandoning them altogether.

Here authors Kat O’Keeffe and Alexa Donne explain the differences in their approaches.


They both make some excellent points, don’t they?

I’ve started a few novels that I haven’t finished, not because they were bad, but because I lost interest. I am happy to work on them until I figure out a good ending. Once the ending seems concrete in my head, I’m done. The puzzle has been solved. Therefore, this time I’m going to side with Alexa and be a pantser. Perhaps if I can keep the ending a mystery for long enough, I will finish this one.

Exercise:  Are you a pantser? Want to give being a pantser a try?  Pick a bit of backstory that you need to flesh out or a scene that might occur in your novel but you haven’t done any planning for. Use it as a basis to free write for about half an hour and see where it takes you. Anything surprise you? Did you struggle because you didn’t have a plan?

Even though a certain portion of us won’t be doing any serious outlining, over the next few posts we’re going to take a look at how plotters create their outlines. It turns out that there are as many different ways to outline as there are writers.

Start with Kat’s videos:

Kat’s 3 act / 9 block / 27 chapter video 

Kat’s outlining example video

Alexa’s  “I Hate Outlining” video

Have you decided whether you are going to make an outline for your novel?


Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.