As I experiment with outlining my novel, I’m learning that there are as many ways to outline as there are writers and types of writing.
For the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling made a hand-written table that contained the outline of her entire series.
Joseph Keller’s outline for “Catch 22” was meticulously ordered like an Excel spreadsheet.
Dylan Thomas’s outline for one poem contained a list of words.
William Faulkner wrote the outline for his short story “A Fable” on his office wall.
To see more famous authors’ outlining methods check out the Daily Mail’s article by Tara Brady here.
If you’re a writer who outlines, how do you go about organizing your thoughts?
Ever heard the saying, “Ideas are a dime a dozen?” While it’s true that ideas can be found everywhere we look, it’s not true that every idea is worthy of a story or can sustain an entire novel. That’s why I like to write in a variety of mediums: poetry, short story, novels, even songs. Most of my ideas can find a home in one of these genres.
But how do you know if your idea can sustain a novel? One way to do this is by writing a logline or a premise statement. Whatever you want to call it, this is a one- to two-sentence summary of your story that includes the protagonist or hero (including a type of person and an adjective that describes him), his goal, the antagonist, the main conflict, and action (plot).
In “Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success,” K.M. Weiland calls her one-liner the premise sentence. Here’s her premise sentence for her novel Dreamlander: Read more
I just finished reading one of the most helpful books on writing I’ve ever read—and that’s saying a lot considering how many titles decorate my shelves.
But I hesitate to tell you the title. You might faint. You might freak out. You might jump back from your computer screen or iPhone or whatever device you’re reading this on and chuck it out the nearest window.
One word, in particular, in this book’s title is generally known to make writers quake in their pink bunny slippers as if they are witnessing a wolf spider crawl up the bathtub drain. Read more
As writers, our job is to frustrate our characters. This job can be hard on us because we usually like our protagonist, maybe even feel she is a part of us. But when we write, we are forced to act more like her antagonist than best friend. That’s because, in order to keep our reader turning pages, we need to create conflict for our characters.
Even in fiction that doesn’t feature car crashes, bombs, or airplanes falling from the sky, we need to have some amount of conflict or tension. We need to create frustrated characters. So how do we keep the stakes high even in a cozy romance or literary novel? Read more
Writing is a messy business. Maybe you have a certain degree of chaos on your desk, with notebooks, bits and piece of paper, Post its with scrawled notes, and index cards from your hipster PDA. Not to mention the paper cuts.
It’s just part of the process.
When I write nonfiction features I have a system I usually follow that adds order and helps me stay focused. I create an outline but not in the sense of those outlines with the Roman numerals we learned about in grade school.
This is more of a skeleton with the main sections of the story noted: Lede, elements of the story that go in the body with a few notes about what each section will contain, and the conclusion. I visualize the story and tend to write from my notes and the mental image, but these notes serve as a guiding force. Creating the bones of the article gives me momentum and a way to relax into the writing. I can focus on the the words and ideas because I generally know where I’m going. Read more
As I work on plotting my current novel, I like to investigate what other authors are doing. By reading about their process, I learn tips to incorporate in my own process.
“How I Plot a Novel in Five Steps” by Rachel Aaron explains her process of plotting a novel. I like what she writes about timelines:
“Make a timeline. I didn’t have timelines for the first four Eli novels and OMG did it bite me in the ass. Lesson finally learned, I now make timelines not just for the events of the novel itself, but the history before it as well. I especially make sure to note relative ages and how long everyone’s known everyone else.”
“How to Create a Plot Outline in Three Easy Steps,” by Glen C. Strathy. To write a story that others will want to read we have to raise the stakes for our protagonist. Low stakes equals low interest. Strathy calls this, “The Cost.” Read more