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The Pros & Cons of Outlining a Story

Outlining your story can have some advantages as well as disadvantages. 

An outline of a story contains the basic information of your story, meaning the plot, main characters, the setting, and so on. 

Are you a ‘plotter’ or do you like to sit down and just see what happens on the page?

I am a ‘plotter’ to a point. I use an outline to guide me through what I would consider the build-up to the MAJOR EVENT or CONFLICT  and to keep track of important clues that I need to drop before a certain point. 

It also gives me an idea as to how long this book will be and what kind of time I need to plan for writing, research, and character creation. 

Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

But for the most part, I like to see what happens. As a recovering perfectionist, I am trying to let go of ‘what it looks like’ vs the ‘what it actually is’ complex I’ve been struggling with as a writer. I have a big binder full of notes that I’ve spent hours collecting and don’t really have much written as far as an actual story. I have one. One that is handwritten and needs some serious work. 

 Some of the most popular authors have different strategies as to how they write their best-sellers. Ryan Holiday and Neil Gaiman are best known for their note-card strategy of outlining their books. One that has proven to best less time-consuming and more versatile. 

We will explore some of those strategies further, but for now, let’s focus on the advantages and disadvantages of outlining a novel:  


If you can’t answer the basic questions about your story, you might have to go back to the drawing board. A novel outline can help you work out the hairy parts of your story.

An outline forces you to think ‘and then what happens next’ all the way thru to the end. You might get to a certain point where you might need to go back and redevelop your story idea.

Here you can plan the evil afoot for your main character. What clues will you drop? What themes will you explore? Where will the axe fall? I use a chapter by chapter outline that helps me through to the midpoint. Each chapter gets seven plot points. Think of each chapter as a short story that could sit on it’s own. Your describing a scene.

Think of the outline as a chessboard for your characters. How they will move? Where will they have their moment to shine? What roles will they play in the story? Will they remain static or will they remain


Outlining can hinder the natural outcome of a scene. With a heavily detailed outline, it is easy to get overwhelmed when what you’ve written doesn’t come out as how you imagined the scene in your head.

I’ve spent hours outlining. And planning. And creating character profiles. It takes a lot of work. It’s part of the process, and it can be. But if you’re spending more than three months planning a book you might need to move on to another idea that captures your attention.

You can plan all you want, but you still have to write it. Plans for a novel do not make a novel. If you spend all your time planning your novel, you will lose the luster to write it. So write. Write scenes as they come. Worry about organizing them later. Inspiration for different stuff might hit you at different times. Don’t worry about writing things chronologically.


Outlining isn’t good or bad. It’s a helpful tool that has been taught in many classrooms for developing ideas for assignments – it can be used for creative writing but not to the extent in which our teachers intended it for.

Do what works for you. Look at other authors’ strategies. See how they develop their story plots and make the process simpler. I encourage you to check out Ryan Holiday and Neil Gaiman’s note card system. It has helped me tremendously.

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