Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland is a solid introduction to prewriting.
This book is billed as a beginner’s guide to outlining, but instead the bulk of the instruction focuses techniques and topics for brainstorming. These topics include overviews of the main aspects of story creation: plot, character, and setting. Exploring these areas is an important part of the prewriting process. The result of this process is what authors use to create their outlines.
Instructions for Outlining Too Thin
Unfortunately, Weiland does not give enough explanation about how to turn the information generated into a working plan for creating a draft. She names a few techniques like mind mapping and pictorial outline, but does not explain these techniques or show how they translate into a functional outline.
Mistitle mars an otherwise good book
The book opens with a lengthy argument for outlining. The aim seems to be to convince discovery writers to join the other team. She continues this theme throughout the book by interspersing author interviews discussing their views on outlining. While the aim appears to be validating Weiland’s position, they offer no new information and are less effective than Weiland’s own arguments in the the opening chapter.
This opening is followed by several chapters on topics for prewriting, but no discussion of the methods for incorporating these into the outline. Weiland missed the mark by not discussing some of the more common outlining techniques such as using index cards, graphing tension arcs, or beat sheets. She does suggest making a scene list that includes a two sentence synopsis for each entry. There is no mention of scene goals, scene/sequel, or plot points. This oversight is a missed opportunity to introduce beginners to one of the strongest advantages of outlining–fixing plot problems before the novel is written.
The purpose of Weiland’s scene list is to “look for trouble spots” which she defines as areas where she doesn’t yet know what will happen, rather than identifying problems with the story (pacing, plot holes, etc.)
A Better Brainstorming Guide
As an outlining book, it comes up short, but as in introduction to novel prewriting/brainstorming this book is a good resource. Weiland covers a lot of ground describing the elements that writers will need to consider when developing their stories. Many of these will come as a surprise to the beginner. These elements range from creating a compelling character backstory to technical writing issues like choosing the correct point-of-view.
Weiland follows her proplanning argument with the following chapters:
- Premise- an overview of developing a vague idea in to a workable premise. This is a detailed discussion of the “what if” question and creating a compelling hook.
- Scene List- creating a list of scenes in your story
- Story Factors- discussion on themes, conflict, and other story elements
- Character Backstory- brainstorming your character’s backstory
- Character Interview- technique for delving deeper into character creation
- Extended Outline- more writing mechanics: POV, intended audience, etc.
- Abbreviated Outline- distilling scene list into single line summaries.
- Using Your Outline- closing commentary.
I did enjoy her section on end of chapter hooks, which was an unexpected bonus and something I will definitely return to.
- Covers lots of information beneficial to the beginning novelist
- Provides a thorough overview of the prewriting process
- Provides the reader with a better understanding of the amount of material needed for a fully-formed novel
- Easy to follow and engaging writing style
- Not enough information on outlining
Weiland’s book is a great choice for any beginner who needs help turning an idea into a full-length novel. She gives great information about the different areas of plot, character, and setting that must be fleshed out for a novel to work. By following her instructions, you will create a notebook full of ideas ready to craft into a story. If you are looking for help brainstorming your novel idea, K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel is a good place to start.
Outlining Your Novel is available here: (Affiliate link)
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