(Cross-posted from Sean M. Murphy's blog)
I am nearly completed with the outline for the murder mystery novel, which has been temporarily named Murder Mystery Novel until that part of my brain comes back from its extended hiatus and provides me with something to name it that will elicit even vague interest in a reader/editor/publisher.
And then, yesterday, I read through Kelly McCullough's three book outline for a series of books that he's about to pitch to a publisher, one of which is written, and two of which are anxiously awaited by your truly and a few other folks (read: everyone) in Wyrdsmiths. Reading his outline for those novels and looking at my own for this project got me thinking about outlining in general, and its various values/uses.
I've used outlining in the past to develop a project and get a handle on its scope ahead of time, and found it to be a wonderful tool for focusing the project. When I outline, I describe the plot arc and various subplots or key elements on a chapter-by-chapter basis, and then as I am writing the novel, I can go back and revise the outline--tweak it a bit, add a section, even restructure or remove a section altogether. But where it's been most useful for me is when I get into the meat of a story, and it becomes a big enough thing where I have to work hard to hold the whole story in my head, the chapter breakdown of the outline helps me focus on where I'm headed and what I need to work on next. Also, its a great way of re-energizing myself if the story has started to stall, because I can see where I had wanted it to go.
I'm not suggesting that outlining is a foolproof way of preparing for a story, or that it worls for everyone. Lyda, for instance, is a very "organic" storyteller, learning where the story goes as it builds up, following her characters down a dark street because, despite her protestations, that's where they want to go, and damnit, that's where they're going to go.
But in my experience, outlining can be a boon in getting down the ideas when that initial bloom/explosion of creative juice happens, and then as a road map, albeit a flexible one, later on.
How about you? Do you outline, or is it an abhorrence to your process? How do outlines function for you? What other uses are there for an outline--for instance, Kelly's outline as a sales pitch--and how does their different function alter their construction? Do you outline as a means of preparing, or abstract an outline as a sales pitch once you're done?