A lot of writers I know would rather chew off their own leg than outline a novel, or even a chapter, but my experience is that a very brief outline really works. If you know where your story is going, if you know where your characters need to be at the start and the end of a particular chapter, then all you really need to do is herd them around a bit.
Knowing where your novel should start, what the character and plot development points are, and approximately when they should happen is not a crutch. It is a valuable tool that will have you writing rather than scratching your head and staring out into space. Knowing where you are going keeps you going.
Now, for those who have just been convinced, and those of you who are in the choir being preached at, here’s an idea about how to make your outline a reality.
Do it instead of something you hate to do.
For me, it’s waiting in line. Waiting for a queue of people to move up for me is tedious and irritating. When I can, I bring a book or play a game on my phone, but unless the game or book will inspire ideas for my novel, I’m just wasting time.
The solution? Bring a notebook. Come on, people, you’ve got nothing better to do in that line, right? Jot down a few ideas. Imagine where your lead character will be when the book starts, and make a note of it. Think of when and how you will introduce your supporting characters, your villains, and the like.
The idea is to do a large, loose outline. You’re not committing yourself to a final form for your novel, you’re just giving yourself a basic roadmap, and permission to create while standing around waiting.
I always take my notepad with me these days, and a lot of good has come from it. Oh. One more thing, I do NOT take a novel or anything else that can distract me from the outlining process. I don’t particularly like it either, but… to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, “…I hate outlining, but I love having outlined.”