The first historical romance I wrote, a behemoth of 900 pages, single spaced, remains a fond memory. An abandoned fond memory.
I'll say one thing for myself as ambitious writer -- I was bold if I thought that novel might be published. I wrote with a lot of passion, a great thesaurus, and although I could tell the difference between good writing and bad, my own tended more to the purple side and exhibited a lot of ignorance about structure and plot development.
I started with every character's backstory.
At about page 200, the story began. I thought.
At page 300 the main characters finally met.
And so it went, until years later, older and somewhat wiser, I reluctantly put it down. RIP.
(I still begin each new story with backstory, but I've learned to place that part into an Outtakes folder for reference, and start where that particular story actually starts.)
I then began work on a story I'd vaguely plotted in my head. The beginning and end were clear. I wrote scenes in no particular order, planning to organize them at some point. Scenes multiplied as the story took shape, some elements morphing several times as new characters, new dramas arrived, stayed, or departed.
At some point I needed to list the scenes in order, so I created a rough point by point outline, adding one sentence prompts that would join the scenes I'd written.
This wasn't good enough. I needed a timeline to ensure the drought scene happened in summer, the blizzard happened in winter.
First off--the date the story began and a brief description of the event: example--train derails, A & B meet.
It became important to put the main characters' dates of birth in the timeline to keep track of their ages. Also, their parents and siblings, and various other characters.
Each important plot event received an appropriate date, so on it went.
Ordering my scenes became easy. Adding important ones and taking out needless ones made sense.
And I had the makings of an outline that came together out of necessity.
My timelines have all become outlines, usually after the fact.
To outline or not in advance is up to the writer, who learns what works for him/her. Here are four authors' takes on outlines:
I'm one of those writers who tends to be really good at making outlines and sticking to them. I'm very good at doing that, but I don't like it. It sort of takes a lot of the fun out.
The outline is 95 percent of the book. Then I sit down and write, and that's the easy part.
The research is the easiest. The outline is the most fun. The first draft is the hardest, because every word of the outline has to be fleshed out. The rewrite is very satisfying.
In fiction, you have a rough idea what's coming up next - sometimes you even make a little outline - but in fact you don't know. Each day is a whole new - and for me, a very invigorating - experience.