When inspiration strikes, sometimes all you want to do is sit down at the keyboard and type. Which is great, until you get to chapter two, and you have no idea what your inciting incident is, or how the protagonist is going to meet their love interest… this is where a plot outline comes in. Knowing vaguely where your story is going is always a good idea, but how detailed does your outline have to be? Writers have traditionally been put into one of two camps, but most generally use a mixture of both methods.
Plotters or Outliners
These writers create detailed outlines and know exactly what is happening in each chapter. While this takes time and effort, the result is usually a much cleaner first draft, with less plot holes and re-writes required. It seems like the perfect method, however there are downsides. Plotting in-depth like this can take all the joy out of the project, and sometimes you are left with so little room to experiment with your craft, the result can be 2D and dull. Another thing you must watch out for is ‘Worldbuilders Syndrome’. This is where you spend so long planning and creating your ‘world’ that you never actually get around to writing a novel.
Pantsers or Discovery Writers
Writing ‘by the seat of your pants’ has always been a popular method, and one that really works for a lot of people. They have a vague plan of main plot points that they want to happen and write until they reach them. Usually character driven, it can allow for unexpected twists and turns as the writer gets inspired. This can get writers into difficulty however, particularly if you have a lot of threads that need tied together by the end of the novel. Without a plan, it can be easy to write yourself into a corner – creating major inconsistencies and plot holes
Whether you write a basic or detailed plot, there’s no right or wrong way to outline. Having something basic planned out is always a good idea, but if you’re itching to get writing, don’t let the thought that you ‘have’ to outline hold you back.