Craft

On Outlining

This one is for all of the outliners out there! As well as those curious to start and those interested in expanding on their current outlines. Outlines come in all shapes and sizes, so this is by no means a one size fits all approach. We’re just going to walk through some things to consider adding to your outline.

When you think of story, you think of the main elements… plot, character, and world building. Outlining draws out the story structure so you can see on paper how the conflict and tension in your novel escalates in the context of the plot and character arcs within the world you’ve created and themes you’ve laid out.

Outlining gives you the visual that you need to help determine if you are 1) raising the stakes well enough for your main character(s) and 2) being consistent with the emotional arcs of your characters and with, you know, not forgetting about all of your characters throughout the novel.

Outlining helps you pace yourself, making sure that everything is earned in due time – not too early, not too late. Outlining gives you the opportunity to iron out the middle of your novel so it’s not murky. So you clearly see how each scene propels the next. So there’s never a dull moment and your reader is kept up at night turning the pages. You can…imagine this…track the day and time of each chapter so you’re not completely lost while drafting or at least put a space in your outline for this so you can track it while you write.

Outlining can be all of these things or some of these things, depending on what you like to focus on when drafting vs. revising. Your first drafts will become cleaner over time but generally speaking, they’re going to be messy no matter what so outlining helps you determine how messy or clean you aim for it to be. Do you want to go on the road trip without a map, stopping at a bunch of exits you don’t really need to see (unless you set aside time for that and prefer that as your process) or do you want to get to The End without as many detours so that you can get to the party and revise?

When outlining, you can plan ahead for The Point When Everything Changes. You can break up your outline in Parts/Acts, Chapters, Scenes beat by beat, really however you want. You can create an outline template in which you fill it all out before drafting or only fill in parts while drafting and the rest in your read through as you take notes before/while revising. When you’re revising, it certainly helps you see if you’re dropping the ball on foreshadowing and setting up your twists and ending well enough.

What do I mean by a template? If you’re following John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story, you can go ahead and outline your novel with the 22 Step Story Structure. If you’re using Dan Wells’s Story Structure template or something that I haven’t mentioned, that’s cool too. If you want to start off simpler, check out the template at the end of the post for a starting point for the skeleton of your own outline. Or perhaps it’s not the skeleton but the actual outline. Your outline could be one page or ten or more.

I can’t stress this enough that there is no one size fits all outline and everything doesn’t have to be filled out completely before drafting. The goal of outlining is simply to have a good idea and sense of what you’re about to tackle, making it less overwhelming once you actually get to the words. Outlining and drafting are discovering what you want to write and revising is discovering what needs to be written.

You may end up writing an outline and completely deviating from it after you get a third of the way or half-way through your manuscript. That’s okay. That’s why you have an easy template to update once it’s time to jump into revisions.

Outlining simply keeps you accountable for keeping your story tight. It’s the net when you fall off the rope. Acrobatics reference for our girl, Amanda Foody! (Go buy Daughter of the Burning City and her series starter, Aces of Shades both out now). Without the net, you’ll hopefully get back up again, though it might very well take a bit longer to recuperate. If that’s your thing, living dangerously and flying off the seat of your pants, if that works for you, that is fantastic. But if you’d rather have the net and there’s nothing wrong with having the net, these are some things to think about when setting yours up.

What do you like to include in your outline?

Opening 

Chapter X

Characters Appearing in This Chapter:

Setting:

  • TIME
  • PLACE

One Sentence Summary (Objective, Rise, Fall):

Scene 1:

Scene 2:

Scene 3:

Chapter Notes:

Inciting Incident

Chapter X

Characters Appearing in This Chapter:

Setting:

  • TIME
  • PLACE

One Sentence Summary (Objective, Rise, Fall):

Scene 1:

Scene 2:

Scene 3:

Chapter Notes:

Rising Action

Chapter X

Characters Appearing in This Chapter:

Setting:

  • TIME
  • PLACE

One Sentence Summary (Objective, Rise, Fall):

Scene 1:

Scene 2:

Scene 3:

Chapter Notes:

Midpoint

Chapter X

Characters Appearing in This Chapter:

Setting:

  • TIME
  • PLACE

One Sentence Summary (Objective, Rise, Fall):

Scene 1:

Scene 2:

Scene 3:

Chapter Notes:

Climax

Chapter X

Characters Appearing in This Chapter:

Setting:

  • TIME
  • PLACE

One Sentence Summary (Objective, Rise, Fall):

Scene 1:

Scene 2:

Scene 3:

Chapter Notes:

Resolution

Chapter X

Characters Appearing in This Chapter:

Setting:

  • TIME
  • PLACE

One Sentence Summary (Objective, Rise, Fall):

Scene 1:

Scene 2:

Scene 3:

Chapter Notes:

2 thoughts on “On Outlining

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