Outline a novel first or just go for it?

A recent discussion on LinkedIn in my Authors, Writers, Publishers, Editors and Writing Professional group was about the question: Do you write with an outline or without one and just from your mind? The answers are all over the place, some for an outline, some against an outline and for the free-writing approach, and some for a little of both.

I am of the outline-before-writing school of thought in most cases. When I worked on proposals in the aerospace business, the maxim was plan the writing before you write – that was to have a top level outline, annotate it with details and a graphics plan, get it approved, and then begin the writing. For my novel I did it a little less formally. In the first novel workshop I ever took, I learned these steps: write the first scene, write the last scene, and write a middle scene. Then write a list of scenes that go in between and start filling in the details of those scenes. Once all that is done, go back and fill more details: results of research, descriptions of characters, locations, time, etc. – spackling the instructor called it.

I found the list of scenes very valuable. It doesn’t have a lot of detail, but it gave me just enough to delve into the writing of the scenes. And by the way, the list doesn’t preclude adding more scenes or deleting some that I have. I think it provided me with a lot of flexibility as well as an anchor for my writing. I just wrote the dialogue first for some scenes and then went back and filled in more detail. I wrote a quick draft of the whole thing for other scenes.

Now that I have over 85000 words and something written for every scene I’m going back and taking out repetition, massaging the writing, and adding missing details. I figure that’s going to take me another couple of months or so. Right now I’m working on a section I actually wrote twice and plopped into two different locations in the book. To alleviated this problem, I’ve copied and pasted the scenes onto two new documents and placed them side by side on my desktop so I can more readily combine, delete, and enhance and finally come up with one cohesive writeup. I wonder how many times I’ve done that throughout my book?

Well, I’ll find out. That’s the value of editing. It sure gets rid of a lot of messes.

I think my list of scenes – or simple outline – has kept me out of trouble as well – at least for the most part.

List of Scenes

Part 1 – Intro chapter – describing Ira’s trip back, set up about the boys’ deaths, the Sokolow landscape.
1. Homecoming – 1908
2. That night
3. Ira takes Daniel to the main street. They visit his old shop now run by his friend
4. Ira takes Daniel to the bank of the Struga River
5. Ira comes home to find Ruth crying. They talk about the death of their sons. She cannot be consoled.
6. Ira goes back to America
7. Train Ride, Stop in Liverpool, and The Ship
8. A daughter Ava is born nine months later
9. Three years go by and Ira finally sends enough money to get his family to America
10. They stay with Mr. and Mrs. Katz in Chicago before going to Danville – four scenes here.
11. They settle in Danville, small town in central Illinois
12. They bring Jewish life to Danville
13. He works in the shop alongside his brother, Jack. Break in time here.
Part 2 – Intro chapter about what has transpired between the time they settle in Danville until 1926 –Descriptions of family members here. What’s going on with them in 1926.
14. A Sabbath dinner – 1926
15. Ira and Daniel after dinner
16. Ava and Mama at dining table after dinner
17. Daniel is in college at night and working as a gofer for a textile salesman during the day. He is learning the textile business
18. Ava in the rehearsal room Danville 1926
19. Ava at the Tea Room after rehearsal

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