Outlines: The Roadmap of Your Story (Plotober 2018)

Dear Plotters,

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.

Outlines - The Roadmap of Your Story

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.

* * *

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!

Plotober graphic. Made by River using photo resource from Mark Levin.

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6 thoughts on “Outlines: The Roadmap of Your Story (Plotober 2018)

  1. I think these tips are very interesting and great to know. Well at least for me – sometimes it can be better to make a first rough plan in the beginning and concentrating on that, rather than just “throw your creative ideas around” (Nothings is wrong with that though haha 🙂 ). And I have to write down every idea and trying to make at least a little plan, otherwise I find myself working on to many different things at the same time (and nothings gets done) XD. But in fact I also enjoy “roaming” freely around – ah well River you know what I want to say rigth? ^^ Haha. Anyways but maybe thats just me, bigger projects are easier for me with “roadmaps” around!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yay! I’m glad the tips are helpful. (^u^)/
      I know exactly what you mean! It can be fun to throw ideas around (and that’s often how I write short stories), but for a big project, a “roadmap” definitely helps keep me on track. Otherwise I forget things or end up with a completely different result than I wanted (which is fine too, just frustrating sometimes).
      Thanks so much for commenting dear! Love hearing your experiences!

      Liked by 1 person

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