There are two kinds of writers–plotters who love to outline a novel before they begin, and pantsers who write by the seat of their pants. Most how-to books are written for one kind of writer or the other, but amazingly, OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL can benefit both. Pantsers will find this book especially valuable as a step-by-step guide to writing their first outline. Even plotters who have outlined many novels will still pick up new techniques to try.
To win over pantsers, Weiland first has to counter all their objections to outlining. She expertly shows how outlines can enhance creativity, rather than squelch it. Outlines can make for a more balanced and solid story, prevent dead-ends, smooth the pacing, enhance the theme, make characters more consistent, and keep the writer motivated to write. As for the format, nobody has to worry about Roman numerals or indented paragraphs. An outline serves the writer, and any format it is fine.
The biggest objection, however, is that outlines seem too time-consuming. Weiland stresses that they will save time in the long run, since a story written without an outline will require more extensive revisions later. Outlines should have only the amount of detail needed to move onto the next section. The idea is to start with broad strokes and fill in later. Many writers, when they have an idea for a new story, get excited about the details, losing sight of the big picture. However, by not getting too specific too early, it’s easier to make changes later. Even better, the writer can be sure she made the best choice for the story, not just the first choice she thought of at the time.
Unlike some books that focus only on character or plot, OUTLINING YOUR NOVEL handles them in tandem. Weiland doesn’t delve too deeply into formal structure. Things like three acts, midpoint, or climax are not discussed. But they would probably only scare her audience of pantsers anyway.
Although I appreciate good confident instruction, I’m wary of books that insist on the one true way. Weiland avoids this trap by alternating her own chapters with interviews, asking other authors how they outline. Each author approaches the process differently, but they all have the same warning–don’t be a slave to your outline. No matter how good an outline is, how complete, it always changes with the writing. And that’s okay.
In a book full of rock-solid advice and excellent examples (flawless formatting, too!) Weiland gently teaches the reader the importance of outlines and urges them to customize their outlines to their needs. Yes, it’s important to have an outline, but the shape of it is up to you.
rating: 5 stars
This book is best for: beginning to intermediate writers
I recommend this book