“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” – Robert Frost
Recently I met a young writer who requested my attention in reviewing one of his novels on a website I am part of. I agreed to it, only to hear his response that he did not indeed want me to read his book, but to read the outline of his book. I told him I could not judge an outline, for outlines should only be for a writer. One cannot really judge the quality of an outline because it is just that. You give one outline to ten different writers and you will get ten very different stories. Similarly, you could have a brilliant outline that, when in novel form, is horrible.
Anyway, the whole instance made me think about how some writers put far too much attention into planning their novel that they never get around the writing it. For me, I have always been the type of writer who jumps into writing and simply sees where the story goes (perhaps not the best way either). I may do some character planning and some overall plot development, but for the most part I follow Frost’s idea that in order to surprise the reader, the writers themselves must be surprised.
While I think outlines are brilliant tools to get your ideas in coherent order, I find some authors value outlines so much that they do not understand when deviation is necessary for perfection. You might have an idea that is great in an outline, but on the pages of your book it is totally wrong.
So, while I encourage outlines to get you started, don’t rely too much on them.