So if you’ve read through my posts, you will notice that I am a big proponent of outlining. To me it’s helpful and necessary. Now, there are some writers who are pantsers, which is who write by the seat of their pants. If that’s you, that’s ok; Find what works for you and go for it.
For me however, outlining is my saving grace. Your outline can be as detailed or minimal as you want it to be. Today, I’m going to share what I do to outline.
An outline helps me stay focused on where the story is going, and various sub-plots that are running through the story. This way I don’t have to go back and reread 100 pages to remember when Mr. Yellow hair looked at Ms. Teal for the first time. Obviously, that’s made up, but you get my point.
Now, let’s get to outlining.
First you start with your story idea. Today, I’m going to make one up.
Story Idea: What if electricity had never been harnessed for use.
Where do I go from here? I find my MC. In this case, it’s a 19 year old girl named Cassidy (for now).
What’s her goal? To save her tribe.
From who? Whoever is killing each tribe one by one.
How does it end? She finds out it’s the Council killing off the tribes to eradicate magic from the land.
AND we have a story. I know my beginning and I know my ending. On to the outline.
Some people stop here for their outline. Not wanting to be boxed in by details. That’s ok too. If you know where you’re headed with your story, you can write until you get there. I prefer a little more details in my outline.
Now, I use an excel spreadsheet. (I can hear you cringing; it’s really not that bad.) Here is what mine looks like. I save this spreadsheet as a template and use it for each story idea. If I can’t complete the outline, I don’t write the story. The reason for that is twofold. One, the story idea may not be big enough to carry a full novel, and two, I may need to research a little more before attempting the story further.
If you get stuck, don’t worry. Research is your friend, and can help you through.
Yours doesn’t have to look like mine; this is just what works for me. As you can see, I use the three act structure, and then include the points that need to be hit and at what time. This ensures my pacing stays on track. You can also see I have a word count goal. This I change with each story. The template is set up for Nano. Which is 50k words in a month. You can adjust as you need.
Now once I have my template open, I hash out the details. Where the story starts, each incident that needs to occur to move the story forward, and fill in the ending. From there I fill in all missing places. The way my template is set up is each chapter is its own scene. You can adjust if you have more than one scene in a chapter.
I tend to get very detailed here. That’s not to say I follow it to the letter when I sit down to write, but it is a great guide as to where I’m going. By using this I know whose POV the story is through at each moment, I know when the tension needs to rise and when it needs to fall, and I know where all my storylines are at any given moment.
With all this it helps with consistency and ensuring there are not any glaring plot holes. When you view your story through the outline and get a big picture of it as a whole, any missing pieces tend to stick out, and you can adjust before you’re 35k words in and have to delete back to chapter 3 to fix it. (I’ve done this.)
Also by outlining, you will have less editing to do when the story is complete. That’s not to say you won’t have any, because you will, but you won’t have as many in the form of pacing and plot pitfalls.
Once I have completed my outline, I turn to world building and character development. This is to fill in any and all places so that I can describe them and the story doesn’t feel flat. After that, it’s time to start writing.
So there you go, how I outline. Feel free to use my template if you like. I created it after studying various other story outlines and found this is what works best for me. Now, how about you? Do you have any advice about how you outline? I’m always open to hearing it.