Do you outline or wing it?
For budding novelists, this matter of plot is often perceived as an either/or question. If you outline your novel, you are establishing plot expectations. If you wing it, you develop the plot as you write.
Neither way is inherently right or wrong. The answer often depends on personal methodology, which is not subject to discussion or conversion. However, each method contains strengths and weaknesses that can affect the outcome of your novel, or at least influence the time it takes you to re-work an idea.
Outlining provides the advantage of knowing you have a full and effective plot as you write. You can plan out plot twists and leave hints along the way that makes the plot realistic while maintaining suspense. However, if you outline you risk losing the spontaneity of a great idea. You may even find yourself forcing characters to follow your plot instead of allowing plot to develop from your characters’ personalities and actions. An outlined plot can also appear too neat, too tidy, or too constricted.
Winging it provides the advantage of flexibility and character direction. What happens next is not pre-determined. It flows from the story. The writer can start out in one direction, and then change directions at any point along the way. Of course, this often creates the need to go back and work in all the changes from the beginning. In essence, the first draft is like a free writing exercise. Then, in subsequent drafts, the work needs to be refined and regulated to ensure each scene fits the context of the entire piece. Furthermore, the writer risks the possibility that the story never arrives anywhere; the characters may follow along their individual paths without their actions accumulating into plot. Another risk is that the writer will get lost somewhere in the middle of the novel—lack of direction can create knots that are difficult, if not impossible, to untie by the end.
Luckily, whether to outline or to wing it is not an either/or question. There are many variations between these two extremes. Nor are you stuck using the same method with each novel you write. Sometimes a writer needs to adapt his or her methodology to the story he or she wants to tell.