Sunday, May 5, 2013

Outlining

If you are going to write anything of some length then I feel like this is a critical part of the process.  When I first started trying to write a novel back in college, and again just out of college, I would start off with lots of energy and ideas.  By the time I would get 20-25 pages in all of that energy would be gone.  So what does that have to do with outlining?  Outlining is what got me over the hump.

The key to doing just about anything successfully is to be prepared.  You have to have a plan.  Inspiration will hit you, and that's when you have that strong urge to write.  That is the best time to put together your outline.  Your outline will help you push forward when you are running out of ideas or not in the mood to really write anything.

So how do we get started?  Here's the steps I took to build my outline.

  1. Get your major plot points down on paper.  - Brainstorm all of your ideas, and write them all down as you think of them.  Don't worry if some of them don't seem that great.  You're not going to be able to make everything work, and some of these ideas will be discarded.  Write them down anyway, and save them.  You might be able to come back to them later, or use them in another story.
  2. Organize your ideas. - This is where you need to make some decisions on how you want to present your story.  Take all of your plot points, and put them in chronological order.  When do you want the main character to confess their love for his/her crush?  Before or after the big conflict?  This will serve as your timeline.  You will add/subtract/reorganize as needed throughout this process. 
  3. Make a scene. - Break down your ideas into scenes.  Pretend that your writing is going to be made into a movie.  Who knows?  Maybe one day it will be!  Write a short description for each scene.  Here you can plan out your entire story.  You have a basic timeline, and now you get a chance to flesh your ideas out on a small scale.
  4. Balance it out. - Some scenes will be longer than others, and I am all about symmetry.  I try to balance out my chapters to make them roughly the same length.  You can skip this step if you don't care about chapter length, but it will be kind of strange to have one chapter that is 2 paragraphs and the next 24 pages. Group shorter scenes with larger ones here to get an idea of how many chapters you will need to write.  You also get a good idea of how much more you need to write later.
  5. Expand and/or contract. - Does your story seem overly long or woefully short?  What can you do to fix that?  This is another chance to brainstorm some more minor plotlines, or trim some of the fat that you don't really need.  It's easier to do this now before you start writing than it is later when you have more time invested and thousands of words written.  With the current timeline planned out it's easy to see where any new ideas fit in.  
  6. Put it all together. - Number out the chapters you are set to write, or you can name them at this point.  Take the scene descriptions that you have grouped together, and put them under the appropriate chapter number or name.  You can use those scene descriptions as the synopsis for each chapter, or you can write a new one.  
And there you have it!  The outline should now have broken down the story to the point where each chapter is a manageable short story that you can easily write.  Keep in mind that the outline is just a guide.  You may find that you may want to switch things around.  Better yet you will come up with ideas while you are writing that you want to add.  Don't worry about following it exactly as written.  Plans change and evolve, so expect the same once you start writing.

I found some other resources and articles on outlining that I found interesting, but I must admit that I didn't read them until I started writing this post.

http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2010/01/25/outlining-novel/ - This site gives a good description of what outlining is and why you should.

http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/ - This site describes the "snowflake method" which is pretty interesting.

http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php - This appears to be the most recommended outlining software.  I haven't tried it, but it looks useful.  

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