I was talking with a friend the other day and she asked me if I used an outline when I wrote a novel. I don't. She wondered how I kept on track. I told her, "I don't know, I just write." Some authors create detailed outlines from start to finish, before they write their opening paragraph. One of my favorite authors, Tony Hillerman said he wrote partial outlines. He'd outline where he wanted the story to go for a few chapters, write those chapters than do another short outline. But he wrote mysteries. I wonder if that makes a difference?
Did you know I'd queried Mr. Hillerman for my first novel, "Tom Named By Horse?" He was not only an author, but a literary agent too. Some agents never respond, others use a form letter rejection, and a few will offer advice. Mr. Hillerman was the latter, and while his advice was brief, it was very helpful and I think changed totally how I write. Sadly he had passed away by the time "We'll Have The Summer" was ready to query. In a small way Anaba in my novel, is a hat tip to Mr. Hillerman. Anaba would have been in the story regardless, but I gave extra care in my writing those scenes, for Mr. Hillerman.
How do I keep track without an outline? Before I write a novel, or a short story, or an article for a magazine I have in mind the theme, the color, the emotions of the story. And the beginning, middle and end. Short stories and articles can be tough to get the flow and cadence just right because they are, well, short. I ponder just what I want to cover, and the pace, then write. I read over what I wrote as I go, and even do a lot of my editing as I write the first draft. Most folks advise against that, but it feels best for me.
For a novel, I do the same thing. I know the feeling of the story. I know the beginning, middle and end. I see the whole story much like you see a movie in your mind after you've watched it. Or a book after you've read it.
I know the main characters at the beginning, others will come along, and I start writing. Some authors make character lists of each character, height, weight, eyes and hair colors. How they speak and entire bios. I've never done that. I'm afraid it will be too technical for me, too structured. But I do see how it could be helpful. So you might want to give it a try.
So I just start writing. Then what? When I'm on a novel in serious mode, I write 1 to 2,000 words a day. I don't write every day. As I said I do a lot of review and thinking as I go. Since I type holding a pencil, one letter at a time, 20 words or less a minute, my mind has plenty of time to review. (You're supposed to chuckle there.) When I start the next day, I read everything I wrote the previous day. It gives me my launch for the day. A little helpful hint, when you read and review, read out loud, as if you're reading to someone. If you stumble over a word or sentence, so will your reader.
Funny thing about me and writing, I can leave a novel lay, pick it up, read the last few pages I've written and be right back in it, on track, on story.
So whatever your fancy, outline or not, character bios or just writing from your heart, it's what works for you that's best.