What You Need to Know About Outlining

Outlining is fun. Seriously. It’s fun to see your story come together before you put a single word down on paper.

Everybody is going to have a different method of outlining. Some people don’t outline at all (and you may be one of them). But I’ve found I can’t write without an outline. So, if you’re like me, hopefully this post will be helpful.

WHAT OUTLINING ISN’T

I had to put this in here because I once wrote a twenty-some-odd page outline for a book and its sequel. 😉 Outlining isn’t supposed to be your book in condensed form, at least not literally. You may find that outlining to that degree affects your ability to actually write the book. Such an extensive outline is quite fun. But probably not worth it.

HOW TO OUTLINE

No one can tell you exactly how to outline because everyone is going to find a different method that works for them. Generally, you may want to start by getting the biggest, most crucial aspects of the story down first. If you’re a character-driven novelist (like me) then the characters and their arcs may come to you first, before almost anything else in the plot. I’ve found I like to write a standard synopsis when I start outlining, to help me see where the story starts and where it could go. Additionally, I often write two or three synopses during the outlining process.

(Word of the week up there – I finally found out the plural form of synopsis! News flash!)

Some people will get really extravagant with outlining by using index cards to outline characters, using both an online outlining tool and the good old fashioned notebook, etc., and I admire their organization skills. Seriously.

I’m not that organized. I outline a little in a notebook, a little on my word processor, and basically nowhere else. Oh, yeah – and in my head, of course. That’s where stories are born. 🙂

Anyway, what I’m saying is, there is no right or wrong way to outline. (Except maybe that twenty-page outline thing . . .) Find what works for you. It also depends on whether a story first comes to you via characters (*raises hand*), your world-building, the plot, a question, or whatever else you can come up with. These will affect how you outline.

The main thing to remember (and the reason outlining is SO vital to a story) is this:

Your outline is very first breath of your story. Your outline is where you organize random ideas. Your outline is where you take those ideas and create the next New York Time’s best seller. *grins* Your outline can help your story succeed because it gives you something to fall back on.

That’s not to say an outline won’t change, because they always do. But they’re like compasses.

Also, if you aren’t a planner and you’ve never outlined a story and you’re looking at me like, “This is totally irrelevant,” keep in mind a brief outline or detailed synopsis can help you when you hit a fork in the road. Consider outlining your ending, or a few ultimate goals you might have for your story.

It’s fine to ramble about outlining, but how do you outline your stories? What do you find works best for you? Or, do you outline at all? Let’s chat in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “What You Need to Know About Outlining

  1. Oh riiiiiiiiiiiiight… outlining exists… *coughs awkwardly*

    Anyway, besides that, stories usually come to me in the form of worldbuilding ideas, so outlining (while I don’t usually do it) is something that would probably benefit me more than I care to think.

    When I DO outline, however, it’s almost always focused around the epic climax/ending scene I have in my mind. There’ll be a picture in my head of where I want this story’s apex to be, and I just do what I can to get it there. If I don’t have this picture, I have no outline, and I just write the story for a) the sake of writing it, b) for fun, c) because I love the characters and it’s really more of a series of short adventures anyway, or d) my friends are forcing me to continue it because they like reading my stories (for some reason). I think I first started using that pattern for my outlining process when I heard/read how Brandon Sanderson uses a similar way of plotting. His stories always have such epic climaxes that I decided I might as well try it out. And, well, it works for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. World-building is a lot of fun! I think because I’m so character-oriented in writing, world-building doesn’t come very naturally to me, in spite of the fact that I mostly write fantasy. 😉

      And don’t worry about it – for the longest time, I didn’t outline, mostly because the things I was writing were so short. Eventually, I had to outline in order to write. And even if you just write down the climax and ending, it can help a lot!

      Like

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