Can you write eleven chapters of a book and then decide to write a complete outline? That's what someone recently asked me. It's a question I like a lot because I've been there and done that ... a lot!
Now, as the King of Outlining, I hate to admit this, but it's true. Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in a new property that we dive right in without stopping to create an outline. Often, we don't even think we need one until we're well on our way to completing the book.
But, you know what?
We need one.
Somewhere along the line, every author will need an outline to sell his book. Either an agent will request it, or an editor will ask for it as part of a submissions package. For either of those two scenarios, a general synopsis (a complete book outline) will suffice. But if you're going to go to the trouble of outlining the complete book, why not make it a detailed chapter outline (chapter-by-chapter) so that you can also use it as a blueprint while completing your writing?
Back to that specific question, though: How do you outline your book once you've already completed eleven chapters? That's simple. Read through each completed chapter, and extract the highlights. Put them into the appropriate place in your new chapter outline. You needn't be too detailed at this point, since you've already completed work on those eleven chapters. In the end, you should have a basic chapter outline for the first eleven chapters. From there, continue outlining the rest of the chapters--this time in detail--until you reach the book's conclusion. By condensing each completed chapter into a series of issues and then fleshing out the remaining chapters yet to be written, you'll have a chapter outline of the complete book to review for character flaws, plot weaknesses, and overall congruity as you proceed with development.
Just remember that, as you make changes to your chapters (rewriting, editing, refining, etc.), you'll need to make corresponding changes to your chapter outline. In that way, your outline will always be current. If you move an element from your completed chapter four, for example, and insert it into chapter five, be sure to do the same in your chapter outline.
Oh, and one more thing. (The King of Outlining, remember?) Use this experience as a reminder to create a complete chapter outline before you begin work on your next book, fiction or nonfiction. You'll save yourself a lot of time and frustration that way. Besides, you're going to have to create an outline sooner or later, anyway. You'd might as well make it sooner.
D. J. Herda is author of the new eBook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere.