An IPPY Winning Book
Carrie Rubin's medical thriller, Eating Bull, won the 2016 silver medal in Great Lakes fiction.
Eating Bull, by Carrie Rubin (Science Thrillers Media)
Five Benefits of Outlining Your Novel
An IPPY Winner Shares Her Strategy
Outlining vs. pantsing is a common topic among writers. Some swear by a detailed outline; others write by the seat of their pants. The majority probably fall somewhere in between.
Personally, I’m an outliner. A big outliner. As in a several-thousand-word outliner. I like to know where my story is headed to make sure I include all the right pieces. Changes can—and do—happen, but they’re more easily tackled in the first draft than the fourth.
On the other hand, many writers find an outline restrictive. They prefer creating the story as they go along, even if it requires more drafts to get to the final product. There’s nothing wrong with that. Whatever gets our hands on the keyboard is probably the method we should use. But if you’re thinking of giving an outline a try, here are five benefits it offers:
1. Prevents Writer’s Block
With an outline, especially a detailed one, you know where you’re headed. As soon as you open your manuscript file, you’re off and running. No roadblocks, no paralysis, no wall. The words may not always be pretty, but that’s okay. Ugly pages can be edited. Blank pages cannot.
2. Maintains Structure
Stories need structure—an architectural backbone on which everything unfolds. Having those elements in place before we start writing makes for a more cohesive novel. Gifted pantsers may intuitively sense story landmarks, but for most of us, relying on intuition alone risks meandering plots and loose ends. Fleshing out even a bare-bones structure that includes the major plot points will go a long way toward ensuring a smooth first draft.
3. Avoids Plot Holes
With my first novel, I had a general idea of where I wanted my story to go, but I didn’t create much of an outline. As a result, I ended up with enough plot holes to sink a Mack truck. When we make up our story as we go along, things seem more seamless than they actually are. Had I planned better, I would have saved myself a lot of work.
4. Maximizes Pacing
Whether a thriller or romance, all novels require good pacing. We want to hook the reader and keep him or her turning the pages. An outline guides our scene creation, making it easier to judge which ones should ramp up the pace and which ones should slow it down. A monotonous rhythm that goes nowhere is a good way to lose readers.
5. Improves Characterization
Flat or lifeless characters will make even the greatest plot fizzle. Knowing ahead of time where we should insert brief bits of backstory, character reaction, or other development tools helps create three-dimensional characters.
Certainly there are more benefits to outlining than I’ve listed here, just as I’m sure there are benefits to pantsing. But if you’ve never outlined your novels before, you might want to give it a try. A smoother revision process will be your reward.
Carrie Rubin is an award-winning author with a background in medicine and public health. She is a member of the International Thriller Writers association. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two sons. Her novels include Eating Bull and The Seneca Scourge, both medical thrillers. Find out more at www.carrierubin.com/.