There is a big divide between authors who outline their novels and those who don’t and they both argue that theirs is the best way. In reality both camps have valid arguments for their method of approaching the art of story telling. Let’s say I am going to go beyond their arguments and suggest we talk about structure instead of outline.
Structure is essential for both fiction and non fiction work. This was illustrated by a recent client of mine who writes about healing. She had been posting on Facebook little snippets about her case studies and wanted to write a book to empower people to heal themselves without an intermediary and share with them her protocol. As soon as she talked about her project, I had a very clear idea of how to structure her book. It made sense to her and has made her writing her book easily as she now just slots her writing into a pre-existing structure. She says this tool had been invaluable.
A great way to find a structure for your non fiction book is to brainstorm all the ideas that you want to include. Jot them down on paper. Then, organise them. I find mind maps very useful. To see examples of mind maps, click here. If you have never used a mind map and want to get started, I suggest Tony Buzan’s book.
For fiction work, as mentioned above, the subject is more controversial. Some like to outline, some don’t. At first, from hearing about the outline camp, I thought I was not part of their tribe as they claim to work on their plots for two to three months before even starting to write their book. But after reflecting for a while, I realised the divide was an illusion. Every writer outlines their story even if it’s in their heads to some extent. Then some of them jot the ideas on a piece of paper whereas others formalise things more and go more in depth. For those who claim to properly outline their novels, who is to say that what they call an outline is not only one step away from someone else’s first draft.
In view of the above, I have come to the conclusion that a little bit of planning can go a long way. It would be foolish to go on an adventure without any map at all, as after all, writing a book is about going from A to B. And some authors claim that the digressions are part of the journey. And to an extend they do, as long as they don’t lead to a dead end, or bore your reader. The difference is whether you take an ordinance map with the finest details or a more general map to give you an idea.
What I write about books is also true for blogs. A successful blog has a purpose, a direction. Some call it a “stake” and you find out the stake of your blog or project by asking yourself how would you like it to change the world.
Most authors agree that whether or not you plot your book in advance, the biggest mistake is to rigidly stick to the map. The story or book (for non fiction) will evolve as you write because you will know the terrain. You will discover things that weren’t on the map. And mostly it will be people. Your characters, once they come to life, will want to interfere with your plan. As their personalities deepen, it impacts the story and creates twists that no writer could anticipate. and for non fiction authors, it might be a while angle that you had not anticipated ahead of writing. Stay flexible. Your work becomes an entity of its own nice you start writing it. Collaborate. Don’t resist.
To your creativity
Ange de Lumiere