Some writers swear by the outline, others …meh. Personally, I tend to write novels that are a bit convoluted, so I find an outline immensely helpful.
I recently released The Wolf at His Door, and I am currently working on The Wolf in His Arms, the second book in the trilogy.
In the second book I am continuing the storyline but also adding a slew of new characters. I find that an outline helps me:
- structure the novel
- develop characters
- keep the plot points straight
- get a handle on pacing
- see how much time/space I am dedicating to different points
Personally, I start with a version of the traditional outline. After I get the basics down, I do a chapter by chapter synopsis. Usually, this is nothing major. I often use bullets of free writing thoughts separated by semicolons. I include plot points, character traits, snippets of conversations, etc. All in all, it helps me know what I revealed when as well as what I still need to reveal.
Since you are probably not familiar with my writing, I need to explain a bit first. My first novel, The Devil You Know, was told over the course of a month, with each chapter a day leading up to a climax on Halloween. My second novel, Red Haze, was told over the course of several weeks. Each week was a subsection, and the chapters, again, were days of the week.
My third novel, The Wolf at His Door, was told over several months, so that construction could not be used. The outline helped me structure the novel and develop a realistic time narrative. For instance, without an outline it would be easy to make chapters incredibly uneven (as far as pacing and length). In the second book in the trilogy that I am currently writing, I am taking a whole new approach. The outline helps me make the book similar to the first but with its own feel under this new structure.
I always see my outline as a work in progress as the novel goes along. I never feel constrained to organize all of the thoughts under letters and roman numerals, etc. Sometimes, at the bottom of an outline I may have a list of scenes or conversations I need to add. If I’m not sure where, they go, I add them to a running list at the bottom. As I add them, I cross them out so I know I added them.
In the end, it’s just my way of keeping a long project organized…and a lot less complicated than a Gantt chart.