It is the last week of Plotober. With only a few days left in the month – and only a few days left before the great first-draft frenzy that is NaNoWriMo – I thought we should touch on something that can be immensely helpful as a guide during the writing process: the story outline.
The Outline: The Roadmap of Your Story
A story outline is like a roadmap: It shows where you’d like to go and the path you plan to take to get there. Which highway do you take? Where do you turn off to get where you need to go? Since there are so many potential paths, it is easy to get lost – so it’s nice to have an idea of where to go.
With that in mind, I’ve compiled a few things I’ve learned over the past few years that help when outlining.
Start With What You Know
Just like with character sketching, it is very helpful to start the plot outline by jotting down everything you already know. Sometimes it’s the backstory for why the adventure needs to happen, or maybe it’s that scene near the middle or the end that you really want to write. Or maybe you already have a good idea of the main story arc. Or maybe you know little details that you absolutely have to include, at some point. Whatever it is, note it down first thing.
Breaking the vast snowy landscape that is the first blank page is sometimes the hardest step, so this helps to get the creativity flowing. And you might be surprised by how much you already know! I know I usually am. 🙂
From here, you can easily organize and rearrange what you already know and see if there are any gaps to fill in. So: Start with what you know, and fill in as you go along. It may sound obvious, but it is a great way to build the foundation of the plot and keep the creative engine going.
Keep the Destination in Mind
They say, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” While I agree on a philosophical level, having a goal in mind from the start is helpful when you’re working on a big project like writing a book!
No matter where you are in the plotting process, it is good to take some time and consider where you want the story to go. What sort of climax are you going for? What feelings do you want to invoke? Are there any key points you want the readers to take away from the story?
It isn’t all about the literal ending of the book, either. Sometimes the destination is about conveying a certain theme or writing a certain type of story.
It can be as vague as, “I want to write a happy ending,” “I want to write a really awesome adventure story,” or “This is a story of redemption.” Or it can be as detailed as knowing exactly what the critical choice is or how the final showdown between the hero and the villain plays out. Regardless, knowing what you want to achieve helps you find the right path to get there, so consider spending some time now to decide on your goal for the book.
Side Trips are A-OK
Outlines are great. They are a plan of attack to make writing that first draft as efficient and focused as possible. And you know something? The first casualty of any endeavor is the plan. 😉
Outlines are great, but they are not the book itself. Inevitably, new ideas and unexpected situations will crop up during the writing process. Allow yourself to go with the flow and explore them. This is the journey part of the road trip: Side trips keep things interesting. You might find something you never knew to look for. And you might end up with a better book because of it.
“But what if it doesn’t fit with the rest of the book?” No problem, that’s what editing is for. And short stories, and setting / character sketches, and Alternate Universe versions. And if nothing else, you’ll gain experience points! So don’t fear the tangent, just go with the flow.
Besides, there is nothing worse for a book than the writer getting bored. If you are bored writing it, the readers will be bored reading it. No exceptions. So if it helps you avoid boredom, it’s a definite win.
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If you are planning to attempt the great NaNoWriMo challenge, an outline is indispensable so you can dive right in on November 1st. And even if you aren’t doing NaNo, an outline is a great way to gather your thoughts so you can tackle the first draft with confidence. I hope these three tips are helpful when you outline your next story!
Today’s question for you: How do you outline your stories? Do you like making your plot outlines super-detailed, or do you hit the high points? Or do you think outlines are completely unnecessary and just dive into the meat of the story right away? I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
Now, I think there are still a few things I want to say before Plotober ends, so check back on Wednesday. Hope to see you then!