Last night in workshop, we briefly discussed the idea of outlining a novel, especially after the first draft had been written. I’ve never written a novel before and much of what I’ve read about craft discourages outlines. But I think it’s important to stay open to methods that could potentially improve a story’s structure or plot. So the question for me lately is, Should I outline a story or not?
I was reminded of a blog post from Jane Friedman, who has tons of advice on writing and marketing novels, so if you’re not following her blog, please start. In this guest post from Tania Strauss of NY Book Editors, Strauss talks about making the decision to outline or not. She says that if external forces, such as setting and historical events, play a strong role in putting the story in motion, then it might make sense to create a broad outline.
The key, it seems, is to identify the pivotal plots points in your story and work from there — or toward there. If you are going for the kind of pull commonly found in movies and best-sellers, you might want to read about the six-act plot. Unless you’re one of those people who wants seven plot points. Or eight.
I’ve never written a story with a plot in mind, nor outlined anything, but to be honest, I’m curious. I like things organized (you should see my closets) and I like structure, so why not approach a story from plot? Perhaps laying down a plot-driven outline and adhering to it will teach me something about story arc and character development. Who knows? Just because I outline one little measly story doesn’t mean I have to commit to outlining for the rest of my life, does it?
As Pam Houston said in a workshop I took with here several years ago, “The structure will set you free.” In her opinion, imposing some kind of structure on your writing allows you to be widely free within those boundaries. I like that idea. I might just plot.