Monday, August 2, 2010

Re: Outlining

I just saw a post on Elana Johnson's blog in which she said she really needs help with outlining a book she has not written yet.
So I decided I would give my own suggestions in this post, which will hopefully help.
Outlining doesn't have to be painful.
Outlining, as you probably know, is kind of like the first steps before you begin your book.  Since it sounds like you want to do a pretty deep outline for this story of yours, I guess I'll go into more detail than I would usually on the subject.
I think first when you begin outlining you should put down ideas for the title of your book.  If you have already come up with that or you don't want to think about that yet, then don't worry.  This isn't an essential first step,  but it's an easy place to start.
Next, characters.  Characters are what make your story come alive.  Without them you pretty much won't have a story at all.  Come up with a list of possible names for characters and if you already have some ideas for what certain characters' roles will be, you should probably note that somewhere.  Now I know this whole time you're wondering, Well, where am I writing this outline?  You should write the outline where it will be best for you.  Put it in a Word document or simply put it on paper.  If nothing else by yourself a white board/chalkboard and make a huge outline.
After you've got names down you want to start thinking where you want to get with this story.  What's the main focus; what kind of people are the main characters; what is the conflict; how is the conflict going to be solved...? Etc, etc.  The list, as you know goes on and on.  You really have to go into those deep questions that you usually wouldn't think of answering first.  It's hard to think about the end of the story when you have not even begun, but let's face it if you don't know how the story will end how will you know where to start it?
Once you've done all of that briefly with perhaps a few places blank here and there, you want to get started on the story.  As you continue on in the story you'll find that what you did not know before you are starting to form an idea about now.  Really you do not have to make your outline complex or painful.  The outline is for you and you alone, so what you really need to know to start writing that story of yours is what you need to put into your outline.
I myself never really make outlines more complex than what I have suggested above.  I think an outline should just get your brain working, and then you should leave the rest to your hands to type or write.  You can type up a beginning of the story and then change it many more times afterwards.  What's really essential is to get down what will move you along in your story --or when you have writer's block and you've lost track of where you want to go in the story.

I wish you the best of luck with your outline, Elana.  If you have any more questions or want more detail on something, I am more than willing to do so.  Hopefully this helped you out, and if not hopefully it helped other writers that are struggling as you are right now.


Elana Johnson said...

Thanks! I have a title, and characters, and in fact, 85 pages of the MS written. My problem? I don't know what happens after the 85 pages I've written. I don't know how to create an outline for something I haven't written yet. I have a very general idea of where I want the novel to end up, but that's it.

So perhaps I'm not quite ready to write the outline? I need more time to brainstorm about exactly what needs to happen to get to the end of the novel? Yeah, maybe...

Lydia Kang said...

Great post! Good luck Elana!
(I'm already sold. I love outlining!)

Julie Musil said...

These are great tips!

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