7 Reasons Why You Should Outline Your Novel DURING Revision



by Kelsie Engen


Today we’re going to talk about how to approach the next revision step: developmental edits. Basically this means addressing the major, structural issues of your WIP before moving on to the minor things.

This step comes after you’ve read your first draft, made some comments or jotted down ideas.

Of course, whether you’ve merely jotted down ideas, or come up with new pacing suggestions, or discovered some character motivations, etc., at this point you should create a new outline.

Even if you’re not an outliner, this is the point where an outline can save you a whole lotta work. Trust me. As a reformed pantser, I have (finally) learned the value of repeated outlines.

I’ve discussed it before, but I’ve revised a previous WIP so many times I think my eyes were bleeding. The sole reason I spent so much time, sweat, blood, etc. on this revision is for the simple reason that I failed to outline my novel–ever. If I ever return to that WIP (it may be permanently shelved at this point), I will not fail to outline it. And pay attention to story structure. And character arcs. And…everything else I’m sharing with you over the course of this revision series.

So even if you’re a die-hard pantser, at some point, an outline is incredibly useful thing to have. This could be just a quick jot down of plot points, done prior to beginning, or else a detailed outline with every scene pre- or post-writing. Choose your method and go for it.

The key is being consistent. In order to remember all the pertinent events that occur in your novel, you should worry more about consistency and details than methods.

And plan on outlining more than once. Whether it’s keeping your outline updated as you write, or if it’s writing your first draft based on a loose outline, or no outline at all, then outlining your first draft and revising with that outline in mind, know that you should be outlining.

Why? Well, I’m glad you asked.



  1. PREVENTS YOU FROM MAKING MINOR CHANGES.Ignoring a badly written sentence can be one of the hardest things to learn in revision. Yet it’s an important skill to develop. Forgo tweaking your sentences–for now. There will be a time (and a revision) for that later. But right now, you really have to focus on the bigger issues at hand, and an outline forces you to look only at the big moments of your novel and not the sentences that compose it.
  2. FORCES YOU TO EXAMINE THE OVERALL STRUCTURE.Even if you “hate” structure and consider it beneath you, it’s hard to deny that all stories are made with a supportive structure underneath. By accepting this, even only at the revision stage, you can save yourself a headache by examining it and seeing whether your story structure needs some help. Here’s a quick post from the archives of my blog discussing story structure in case you need help or a quick reminder.
  3. HELPS YOU ADDRESS PACING ISSUES.Examining the larger structure lets you see whether your midpoint is indeed falling halfway through the novel, instead of three-quarters of the way through your novel. It can help you examine whether your plot points are actually as big (or small) as they ought to be.
  4. HELPS YOU STREAMLINE YOUR PLOT.It’s easy to throw in a lot of subplots (here’s a previous post on subplots) and rabbit trails as you write your first draft. Even if you’ve outlined your first draft, getting sidetracked is kind of allowed, because you’re exploring your characters, plot, and story in a different way. And if you didn’t change your outline accordingly, here’s the chance to do that.
  5. HELPS YOU ORGANIZE YOUR THOUGHTS.You will have a multitude of thoughts as you reread your MS. In fact, you’ll have probably half a million ideas and thoughts that may or may not deserve more thought. (Yes, writing is largely a thinking game, and requires multitasking and organization.) What outlining does, especially if you go more in-depth than just the main plot points, is allow you to streamline your thoughts and organize any new ideas in the context of your story’s structure.
  6. IDENTIFIES THE LARGEST, MOST LOOMING ISSUE(S).This kind of makes sense if you think about it, as often times it’s hard to see a structural issue without an outline. An outline forces you to sit down and consider your novel’s structural moments. What is the pivot point? What is the midpoint? And do they fall at the “correct” moments in your novel? An outline will show you whether they do, and perhaps even where to shift some events to make them fall at the right moments and avoid that dreadful, saggy middle.
  7. IDENTIFIES ANY PLOT HOLES YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED.Plot holes were discussed last week, if you missed it and aren’t quite sure what they include. But in this context, it’s important to realize that it’s critical to discover any plot holes before your novel is ready for consumption, or before you spend too much time revising in a misguided way.

Outlines are valuable tools, one that many writers don’t utilize to their fullest extent. Looking at the bigger picture of a novel always helps in revision, and should not be ignored. Even if you’re only outlining the main points, it can help you to make your story stronger and leave a more lasting impact upon the reader. What could be better?




Guest post contributed by Kelsie Engen. Kelsie loves to read and started her blog to share that passion with others of like mind.

30 thoughts on “7 Reasons Why You Should Outline Your Novel DURING Revision

  1. Outlining can also be good in short stories. Because you only have so many words to tell your story, outlining certainly comes in handy. The idea behind short stories is that it be written in one sitting. Having an outline will go a long way in making that happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting article! I’m not for outlining before starting the first draft, but before revising it, that’s certainly a great idea. It would have saved me lots of rounds of revisions where I tried to solve the story structure and the prose writing at the same time. It seems I should have nailed the structure and plot first, and then bother about the prose. Anyway… It’s a learning curve!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the same way I learned about outlining during revisions…I fought outlining for a long time and then finally gave in during my endless edits. It certainly helped me get a handle on the story I was wrangling at the time. 🙂 Hopefully it helps you too!


  3. It was serendipitous that you posted this today. I reported my word count to my group and commented that my current work doesn’t seem to fit my outlined ending – as if my ship is going course. I feel much freer to go with the flow and see where it lands.

    Linked to my blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This advice applies equally well to non-fiction. I am currently deep in an existential redraft of my memoir, which seems to suffer from major structural and pacing issues despite my earlier attempts to outline. Very true that it’s a waste of time to perfect language until you’ve got the framework right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad that non-fiction writers can find this useful as well. I learned about perfecting prose before structure the hard way too! I got so focused on prose and perfecting sentences that I wanted to give up! I’m glad I didn’t, but outlining during (and before) revisions has certainly saved me heartache!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Kelsie, this post has given me hope for my odd way of writing. I started out as a pantser, went a full 180 degrees to become a plotter, then turned around going back to the 45 degree mark. Although I’m definitely comfortable writing drafts now. I’ve been a little worried about how I would handle edit/revision. I was concerned about getting all tangled up and finding myself on tangents that lead to certain dead by way of cliffs. I think you’ve solved my problems. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad it could be helpful, Glynis! I love hearing that! 🙂 I know that outlining before I revise helps me a lot. I still try to outline prior to the first draft, but I find that my first drafts go too far off base to really be considered the same story! But as a linear thinker, I find outlines super helpful at this point before I get deep into revisions. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m not sure I could overlook the minor things–tweaking a sentence or paragraph of description–but you’re absolutely right that you need to have the larger issues at the forefront of your mind. And having them noted down certainly doesn’t hurt. 🙂 Thanks for sharing this!


  7. Kelsie,

    Me? Take the bitter Outline medicine? How obsessive with details is that? I am an author. I see all. I know all.

    Okay, mom. I’ll take it.

    I’d also suggest when you construct your outline that you compose your answer to this question: “What is my story about?” That’s a summary, or a pitch that you will need later, but can serve now to check against your words and sentences and chapters to see if they belong.



  8. Reblogged this on Michael Seidel, writer and commented:
    This is exactly the process I’ve evolved, and for the reasons given. While I’m an organic, feel it and follow writer, structure and focus are critical needs for me while I’m editing and revising. The outline isn’t fancy, and varies in length and complexity, depending on the scope of the novel, but it’s a very useful guide and reference.


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