I’ll be honest – there haven’t been too many people I’ve come across who outline before writing the first draft of their novel. Outlining isn’t everyone’s favorite thing to do in the world. I personally love it, but that’s a blog post for a different day.
Research, on the other hand, is something that people do quite often and at during multiple stages of the writing process. If I have an idea of what information I need to know, I always spend a good amount of time researching before writing. Using research as your novel outline is a great way to outline without “spoiling” the novel for yourself.
A lot of research goes into novel writing. Despite it being fiction, we as writers try to make things as realistic as possible. We want it to be real for our readers. Researching is the way to do that and there are many different things we can research in outline form to set up for our first draft.
Setting & Time Period
Setting is easy and hard. If you’re writing about a place you’ve been to before, it comes somewhat easily. If you decide to base your novel in a foreign place unknown to you, then you need to research. This may include traveling to that place, jotting down ideas, taking pictures, and the like. I mean, why not make a vacation out of it?
Unless you were born in the 50s, you have no idea what it was like to live in the 50s. School was different back then, they dressed differently, and there are even different slang terms than we have now. This is research you need to do in order to make your characters authentic.
Speaking of characters, people were named differently back then as well. Certain names are more common in certain generations. Do you necessarily need to follow that? No, not really, but sometimes it’s helpful to know. We all have different “roles” as well. Yes, everyone should be treated equally, but maybe in your novel they’re not.
How many of you out there are writing about war or have frequent battle scenes? Do you know what it’s like to wield a sword? Do you know any fighting stances or techniques? Researching this before you write your novel will help the first draft go smoother when you get to those scenes. It’ll still need editing for sure, but less so in the long run.
Then there’s horseback riding, how to sew on a button, how to murder someone, and so much more. We can write about what we know and what we have experience with, but it’s more fun to write about what we don’t know and experience it first-hand through research.
So, whether you outline or not, doing a little bit of research beforehand is always a good way to go. Unless you want to completely wing and make stuff up… that’s cool too.