Map Your Story With An Outline

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

When it comes to plotting my stories, I definitely prefer to outline ahead of time. I like to know from the beginning which direction my story is going in. Of course, I am always open to change as well. Sometimes the characters take things in a whole new direction than I'd originally planned. In that case, I simply adjust my outline to include those changes. Having an outline doesn't mean it's set in stone.

P. Bradley Robb, of gives us five good reasons to outline our work:

  • Establish clear motives
  • Separate major plot from minor plot
  • Spot plot inconsistencies before they show up.
  • Enhance foreshadowing
  • Keep your story on track
You need to create the basic framework for your story to grow on, but not so much that it takes energy away from your work.

There are many different ways to do it.

  • A traditional outline (with roman numerals)
  • Index cards
  • Spreadsheets
  • Special novel writing software
It can be as simple as a list of the story's major plot points, if that's what works for you. There really is no wrong way to do it. 

The outline is about what happens in the novel. It is about finding your story's structure and sticking to it. It allows you to focus on what's important in the story and keeps you from wandering off. Put in as much or as little as you need. 

Author N. M. Kelby points us to the table of contents of Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix as a good example of the bones of an outline. It begins: One: Dudley Demented; Two: A Peck of Owls; Three: The Advance Guard.

She says, "If you were J.K. Rowling, and this was your first outline, all you would have to do is write a short summary paragraph after the title of each chapter. In the first chapter you would tell us why Dudley is demented and make sure there are bits in your description that set the action of the book in play. Then move on to the next chapter."

It can be as simple as that.

What do you think about using an outline? Are you a planner or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants? 



From Idea To Page In Four Simple Steps

Monday, January 7, 2013

Every writer has a million ideas bouncing around in thier head. The problem is getting those ideas down on paper. Those of us who are just starting out need to figure out just what we need to make those ideas work.

Critically acclaimed novelist, N.M. Kelby gives us some fantastic advice on how exactly to do that in her article, "Taming the Beast". Here she tells us that we need to realistically outline and throw away what bogs readers down the most. And that we need to set up a game plan to hook the readers and keep them reading.

She gives us four simple steps to help us build the frame we hang our stories on.

1. Always begin with your protagonist. The readers need to discover who the hero is and why they should root for them. Introduce your protagonist, either directly or indirectly, within the first 3000 words.

2. Establish time and place. Your readers should know exactly where they are. If they are wondering, they lose focus and may stop reading. They have to trust that you are in control of the story. Nobody likes to be left alone in the dark.

3. Announce the stakes. Great prose will go a long way...about 2500 words or less. After that, even the most literary readers want to know why they are reading. Just a simple sentence can do the trick. The author needs to let them know what is really on his mind and at the heart of the story.

4. Organize. Once you have your story structured around the beginning you've set in place, look at all the bits of writing you've done and ask yourself one simple question: "Where the heck was I going with this?" If you don't know or if where you're going now doesn't match where you were going when you set out, focus on better defining those areas before you go any further.

I hope Ms. Kelby's advice was as helpful to you as it was to me.

Until Wednesday...

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