So how important is outlining? A dear friend and mentor, William Bernhardt, told me that outlining a novel is important. You have to know where you want to go, what you want to happen, and where you want to end up.
My first novel, The Woman on the Painted Horse, was not outlined. I had a rough set of notes for different scenes and the characters, but an actual outline for each chapter never existed. I have often wondered if not having the outline ultimately caused me to take nearly four years of writing, revising, editing, revising, revising, and revising some more. I guess the answer isn’t really important, well for the sake of future novels it is, but not for that one. It’s done, at the publisher with the editor now and set to release in January.
When I started In the Land of Gold, though, I thought. “I’m going to do it differently. I’m going to outline it before I start writing so I know exactly what happens when. Maybe it will even help me write it faster.” In truth, I was right. It has helped me write the novel faster, and arch the story just the way I want it right off the bat, instead of writing a few drafts and realizing I haven’t done the job I wanted causing major edits and rewrites. And, yes, I say that because I’ve been there before. Did I mention that my first novel took me nearly 4 years?
So last May, I began the outline. Using a page for each chapter, not only did I write out the plot, but I bulleted the scenes, gave a very detailed description and I added notes from all the historical non-fiction research books I read. Page after page, the chapters came to life in detail. Well….certain detail, that is….
About fourteen chapters into the story, I came to the dreaded realization, that I had only outlined the details of the scenery and the trip the characters were taking. While those two factors are important in the story, I had ignored the characters and their story both apart and together. To be honest, I’ve struggled with this book and struggled in a couple of ways. One of which was the connection between my characters. In my first novel, the connection between the hero and heroine was immediate. They were even so connected that they pretty much wrote their story themselves. They were easy. My new hero and heroine are not, and from day one they’ve never been.
Going back through my outline, but with the eye for their story and not the actual trip up the Klondike trail, not only did I find a few plot holes, but how bad the lack of connection between my two main characters really was. My scenes were stiff, withdrawn, and emotionally shallow, focusing more on the stages of where they were on the trail instead of where they were emotionally and in their budding relationship.
After I reorganized the outline, condensed it, and really focused on what I didn’t before, I rewrote a few of the chapters that were flawed. In doing so, I’ve developed a few more scenes that have not only brought life into the characters, but have brought them together in the exact emotional manner they lacked.
Between the two novels, I’ve gone from one extreme to the other in outlining–one not at all and the other too much. Hopefully, by the third novel, I will finally get it right. 🙂