how to outline a novel

Sometimes, linear writing does not come easy to me.

It’s Throwback Thursday

It’s Throwback Thursday, and I’m reprinting a post on linear writing that originally appeared five years ago. The concept of every story being different is still true. Sometimes, extensive plotting is required. Sometimes, you put your head down and jump in. I’d like to say it gets easier, but I’d be lying.
p.s. The short story mentioned is still on my hard drive. It morphed from a short story to part of a trilogy, all three subplots occurring simultaneously. I still don’t know how I’ll pull that off.

Linear writing doesn’t always mean linear plotting.

Linear writing doesn’t always mean linear plotting. In the debate of pantser vs. plotter, on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being I’ll figure this out later and 10 equaling a hundred page outline), I’d put myself at about an 8. Yes, I’ll admit to creating a spreadsheet or two in my time, but I don’t always know what will happen three chapters from now. I generally have an idea, and I know that P, Q, and R have to happen before Z, but sometimes T, U and V are a bit hazy.

Sometimes, linear writing does not come easy to me.I’m having a haziness problem with the short story I’m working on. You’d think, with a short story, I’d have the opposite problem. With fewer words, scenes and subplots, the way to Z should be clear. Alas, not so much.

Being early solved my plot problem

Last Saturday, I attended a writing retreat. As providence would have it, I misjudged when it started, which left me with an hour of free time. Luckily, I had a fresh legal pad with me. I set out defining the GMC (goal, motivation and conflict)  of my main character, Ray. It didn’t take me too long to realize he lacked two of the three. I played the old game of  “Why does he want it?  Why does he really want it? and Why does he secretly, deep down, maybe-he-doesn’t-know-why want it?” I discovered a lot of his history which probably won’t make it into the story, but it sure as hell gave me his motivation. After that, his conflict was clear. What or who has the power to stop him?

Aliens are my go-to antagonists whether I am linear writing or not.I played this game with his antagonists, the aliens. Yes this is an alien story. I discovered they are my go-to antagonists. After I’d clarified their GMC, I realized they and old Ray have the same antagonist. This brought a third major character (or entity) into the story. There’s all kinds of secret keeping, double dealing and tension that wasn’t in the story before.

This is called the crunch. The juicy element that pulls you in and keeps you in. The bite to the story.

A new way of writing

I know the final scene. The challenge is, I will have to write it in an entirely different way than I normally do, which is linear writing, the comfort of A to Z. In order to preserve the twist, this will be a C, K, R, F kind of story. Non linear. Very Inception-like. Benjamin Button. Look here. No, over there.

I’ve turned to a new page on my legal pad and am working through the GMC of the three main characters and what scenes are crucial for each. I’m sure I’ll have to write them out of sequence then patchwork them together later.

It’s not quite pantsing. It’s a little scary, but it’s the way I wrote my very first story. I woke from a dream with a vivid ending. I didn’t know the characters, I surely didn’t know what GMC was, but I knew I had to get them to Z.

How do you write, and how do you get to Z?

 

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Your outline should be a living, breathing document, able to change as inspiration and your characters take you in new directions.www.cherylsterlingbooks.com

“O” is for outline in today’s AtoZChallenge

The Plot Thickens:21 Ways to Plot Your Novel, including how to outline your novel

The Plot Thickens

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.

Your outline should be a living, breathing document, able to change as inspiration and your characters take you in new directions.www.cherylsterlingbooks.com

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”.

#AtoZChallenge

 

 

 

 

Blessings until then,

Cheryl

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.

If you know of someone who would enjoy learning more about Outlining, use the buttons on the left to share this post. Thank you.

*#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.

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The Plot Thickens:21 Ways to Plot Your Novel, including how to outline your novel
This is an excerpt from “The Plot Thickens:21 Ways to Plot Your Novel“, written by me and my wildly creative partner, Jack Monroe.
The Plot Thickens
Love It or Hate It, It’s Time to OutlineIt’s time to 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 just 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!

The Plot Thickens:21 Ways to Plot Your Novel is available as a FREE Kindle Unlimited book!

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