The following book review was originally published in SouthWest Sage, December 2013, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.
Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland
A Book Review by A.R. Aeby
J.K. Rowling spent years plotting out the Harry Potter series. J.R.R. Tolkien had the curious habit of starting over whenever he hit a snag in his writing. Earnest Hemingway had a noted love affair with the bottle that directly influenced his life and writing. And at some point each of these acclaimed writers needed to sit down and take the story that was swimming around in their head and commit it to paper. How they made it through the process with a fully fleshed out and dynamic novel only they can tell you. But it is a universal step for all writers. At some point, you as a writer will have to figure out what process works best for you to transfer the story idea from your mind and make it into an actual book. In Outlining Your Novel, Weiland provides basic tools to create a roadmap for your story to follow.
As I sat down to read Outlining Your Novel, I was ready to be told the virtues of outlining—as even the least discerning person could expect from the title. I, of course, already thought I knew the merits of this process for story creation. As an outlining fan, all I really expected was a little ego stroking with the knowledge I have been doing it right—at least this part—all along and that the whole pantsing method (basically writing from the seat of your pants) was the doom of writers the world over. Now, before you start getting all judgey, let me just say at times we all need to hang onto that one thing we get right to keep us moving forward, and the fill-in-the-blank outlining process is mine. After that everything else about my writing is kind of a crap shoot. However, Weiland had more to say about outlining than I expected. She showed me that it was more than dry Roman numerals, stark words and my usual methods. Outlining is actually a very useful tool that can be shaped to fit your own style and taste. With her suggestions even the most free-spirited writer can have focus, and we type “A” personalities can introduce a little more flexibility.
The right method for the individual writer is not a one-size-fits-all, and Weiland openly strives to help you find yours. From detailed outlines to a short reference page, mind maps to post-its on a wall, the right way to outline is what works best for you. When you sit down to outline, the idea is to be focused, but to avoid rigid adherence to the outline. Weiland advocates structure, but also makes allowances for change and organic writing to be included. The obvious benefits of preplanning include avoiding those nasty story holes, dead ends and other unsightly things that will take away from or ruin your story. The end goal of outlining is to have your story, characters, and plot fully thought out and planned so the actual writing is the easy part.
This book is very manageable at less than 200 pages, a fairly quick and easy read but still thorough. Weiland is incredibly well organized—as to be expected—with a clear, concise and straightforward writing style. I wouldn’t call this book dry or boring by any means, but just a warning: it is not written to entertain, just inform. I love that the chapters are outlined in the table of contents. She gives point-by-point explanation of different tools and approaches for customization, while providing a multitude of examples, especially from her own process as a writer. She even mentions appropriate times for pantsing, like when you get stuck. The sections interviewing other published authors on their process—such as Becky Levine, Aggie Villanueva, and John Robinson—really helped me rethink what can be improved in my own process and ways to develop the weaker areas. She also mentions some writing programs and internet tools that were new to me, and I look forward to utilizing them.
I have to say this wouldn’t be a great first how-to for writing. Having a good grasp on story construction is fairly key, and some ideas about character construction along with an actual story idea are needed before diving into the outline. I suggest giving this book a thorough reading before trying to apply it to a particular project.
K.M. Weiland is active as both a mentor to other authors and a published author. Her other writing book Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story and her website Helping Writers Become Authors are very nice accompaniments to this book. Weiland also has an instructional CD called Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration. She is a writer of speculative and historical fiction. Among her credits are A Man Called Outlaw, Behold the Dawn, and Dreamlander.
The creation process is a very individual thing. What worked for J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Earnest Hemingway probably won’t work for you—especially that whole love affair with the bottle thing. But as a writer, finding the right process for you is a crucial step to becoming an author. This process is ever evolving over the life of your career, and Outlining Your Novel will help give you new ideas and refine old ones so you can have the novel of your dreams.
A.R. Aeby received a Bachelor of Arts in history almost solely from the love of stories, even nonfiction ones. She is the author of the book review blog Whymsy Likes Books, where her goal is simply to share her passion for books. But she is a book author with the eternal hope of becoming a published book author. She lives in the deserts of New Mexico with her two young daughters and her husband of ten years. Visit her blog at http://whymsylikesbooks.blogspot.com.