For my ﬁrst novel, Kill Cue, because I had never before written a novel, I wrote an extensive 18-page outline.
As I wrote the book, things changed. Thank goodness, I went with the changes rather than sticking to the outline. After I sent in the ﬁnished manuscript to my editor, like a dummy, I actually revised the outline to match the book. (Guess I expected to get a grade.)
That experience taught me that I had devoted far too much time to writing an outline, the time I should have spent writing the book.
As a consequence, for every novel since my ﬁrst one, I have used what I call a “leapfrog outline.” I ﬁgure out how the book will start and approximately how I expect it to end, and then I simply start at the beginning with a working outline which goes only three or four chapters ahead of where I am. I write up to that point and then outline for a few chapters more.
A leapfrog outline is really just a few sentences telling me what is probably going to happen in each of the next few chapters:
“Kate drives to the ofﬁce to meet her new client. When she gets there, Zack Weaver hires her to look into the background of his new girlfriend.”
It’s simple information intended only for you, to help keep you focused. A leapfrog outline is a road map, showing you where you intend to go. You can change it as often as you wish. I like this method because it allows the novel to grow organically as I write. For me, writing a novel while adhering to a previously-created outline was like writing a term paper. It became a cold, unemotional project; homework.
Another danger of an extensive outline is that it tends to water down creativity because you don’t think about alternatives as often; you write only what you decided, weeks or months earlier, you were going to write. And that has a chilling effect on what could otherwise happen.
It’s like the way an artist works. She throws a big gob of clay on the table ﬁrst, then she creates a work of art from it. She doesn't start with a little bit, make it into a perfect ear, then add more clay and make a perfect nose. She creates a whole.
That’s the way I like to work.
Above from the book NOVEL SECRETS,
available for Kindle for only $2.99: