I’ve had several people ask me lately about outlining my work. Do I or do I not outline a manuscript before I start writing?
My answer was the same as for the question about which comes first, plot or character. “Sometimes.”
When I write nonfiction, the order of events follows some (hopefully) logical sequence. I follow a process from start to finish. I relate historic events chronologically. I write up the life cycle of a particular animal. I almost never outline my nonfiction although, given how difficult the rewrite process can be, it might not be a bad idea.
When I write fiction, I usually outline. If it is a picture book, I get out my story board and write a sentence or two for each scene and lay it out on the board. For a novel, I make a list of the events that have to happen, the scenes that are already in my mind.
For a longer fiction project, I don’t always have the whole plot in place before I start writing. I need to play with the project a bit to get to know my characters. At times like this, I start with a partial outline, write, learn more about my main character, meet a few secondary characters and then stop writing for a bit while I add to my plot. That’s where I am right now on my new YA. My POV character and the romantic lead each have a sidekick so I’ve added two characters. Now I need to strengthen the plot.
That’s what works for me right now. Tomorrow, it may be completely different!