Since I'm in the process of plotting my second novel, the question of outlining (or not) is on my mind. I asked my friend Kelli Stanley, author of 2010 LA Times Book Prize finalist CITY OF DRAGONS, whether she is an outliner:
KS: Do I outline? Yes and no. It's complicated.
I use a rough outline to break down the story into acts or parts. CITY OF DRAGONS–and all the Miranda books–are constructed on a five act play structure. A contemporary thriller I'm working on is built on three acts.
Certain things need to happen at certain points along the way, and the division helps me make sure they do. I then break down the acts into chapters, and set a page limit for the chapters themselves.
As I write, I narrow the focus, so the outline becomes more detailed. But I never get too specific, particularly at the beginning, because one of the primary joys in writing–for me–is the process of discovery. I like the freedom of letting characters develop themselves, steal scenes, and I love the thrill of the unexpected–I like to be surprised as much as a reader would. At the same time, crime fiction demands a certain pace, which itself constricts and expands depending on the scene, your goals, and the stage you are in the plot. Writing an outline keeps me focused on those elements–it reminds me of what's next, and acts as the spine of the novel–which I can then flesh out with much more freedom, knowing that key plot elements are planned ahead.