“O” is for outline in today’s AtoZChallenge
As I did for the “J” is for Hero’s Journey post, I’m borrowing content for today’s subject of how to outline a book from The Plot Thickens:21 Ways to Plot Your Novel, a book I and a writing partner published about plotting. I’ll dip into it’s pages on the 24th for “T” is for The Three Act Structure. Until then, enjoy our thoughts on outlining:
IT’S TIME TO PUT SOME of these lessons into practice, and outline your story. I’m a big fan of outlining; it helps me stay organized and focused, and keeps me drifting off subject.
Your outline should be a living, breathing document, able to change as inspiration and your characters take you in new directions.
You’re going to spend a lot of time on your outline, tweaking it until order starts to take shape. Don’t be discouraged; it’s all worth it in the end.
First, brainstorm the heck out of your story. Nothing is off limits, nothing is a stupid idea. Write down all the elements you want to appear in your novel—the characters, their situations, the setting. Once you feel you’ve exhausted your imagination, start funneling your ideas into something more manageable by writing a summary, an abbreviated version of the main body of work.
Some of the things to consider:
- Who is your main character? What happened in his back-story to shape him and prepare him for his challenge? Some authors make a complete character sketch for their major players. Some choose pictures, write bios, or create a vision board. Use whatever you’re most comfortable with to get a handle on your characters.
- What conflicts will they face in the novel and how will they solve them? Remember, their problems will move the story.
- What are their motivations to accept the challenges they’ve been presented?
- What are they trying to achieve (their goals)? Their goals, motivations and conflicts should be internal as well as external.
- Where is it set? Build your fictional world.
Now list the plot points, the major milestones your character has to experience to get him to the end of the story. Use the Hero’s Journey section of this book to define them.
These plot points will become your scenes. Each scene must have a purpose. Something has to happen which drives the story forward. It will produce a change molded by conflict.
Summarize each scene in a few sentences. Use index cards, Post-Its, an Excel spreadsheet or (my favorite) Scrivener, to organize them.
Elements of a scene:
- Who is in the scene?
- Where does it take place?
- Whose point of view is used?
- Do the decisions made by the character move him closer or further from his goal?
Do your subplots tie into the main story?
Does your character suffer and grow and change until he can’t go back to the way he was at the story’s beginning?
You probably have an idea of how long you want your novel to be. Using the three or four act structure, break your estimated word count into the appropriate sections. Place your “must-have” scenes where you think they should fit in the overall structure. Take a step back.
Believe it or not, you’ve outlined your novel! Don’t be surprised if you deviate from it. Characters have a habit of taking over, but you’re in the driver’s seat!
Congratulate yourself and start writing!
Tomorrow’s #AtoZChallenge* will focus on the letter “P”.
Blessings until then,
If you’d like to continue reading my entries in the AtoZChallenge* and to receive my blog posts, please use the entry form to the right. Also sign up for my newsletter, and you’ll receive a FREE copy of my short story, Mr. Right, Mr. Wrong, Mr. Alien.
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*#AtoZChallenge is a blogging challenge that takes place in April (except on Sundays). Participants blog every day around a theme of their choosing, in alphabetical order. Throughout the month of April, I’ll share tips, links, and insights I’ve learned in my writing career.