Posts Tagged ‘process’

Using Outlines for Revision

A lot of people consider outlines as something you need before you start writing your first draft, but I would argue that they’re a much more important tool for the revision phase of a project.

That’s not to say that having an outline when you’re doing the initial writing isn’t helpful. In a lot of ways it is. (Please refer back to the section about why you need an outline for more on that.) But revision is a whole other beast, and if you’re unprepared for the process, you can find yourself putting out draft after draft and never really getting the book/story you’re looking for.

Revision is the process of taking the book you have and making it the book you want. But if you don’t know what you want…

That is why I highly recommend using outlines for your revision process. And the more thorough the outline, the easier it is to put into place. Even if you’re a pantser, use an outline for revision. The story’s been written. You know how it goes. The point now is to make it coherent, logical, and beautiful, and to prepare it for whatever the end goal of it is (whether it’s to share with a few friends or family or send it off hoping for traditional publication).

If writing is a right-brained activity, revision is left-brained. And having the right tools and processes make left-brained activities flow better. Having an outline can help you see where you’re missing scenes, where scenes don’t make sense, where you can add in more conflict (or streamline some that’s too complicated).

And once you’ve planned out what needs to go where, then you make it do so.

I like to use a combination of phase outlining and note cards for my revision process. Note cards in particular can be very useful, because each scene is its own card, which means you can rearrange scenes or add/remove them without disturbing the entire outline.

So, if you’ve had issues in the revision steps of the writing process, look at adding some outlining in. It can also help to note what in particular you have to keep rewriting (character motivation, plot flow, etc.) and focus on that in your outlining.

What say you, squiders? Do you think using an outline for revision is helpful? Alternates or other tools you like instead?



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Looking Back at 2018 and Ahead at 2019

For the last few years, I’ve had a spreadsheet with a general idea of what I want to get done for the year and the general time frame in which I think it’s going to get done.

There’s a lot of overlap from year to year–the same projects not really getting done–so I may want to rethink this moving forward.

But, hey! Things got done in 2018, and they were generally useful:

  • I wrote 20K to get to The End on my space dinosaur story first draft (started in 2014)
  • I wrote approximately 10K on the sequel to City of Hope and Ruin
  • I had a story published in an anthology (The Necro-Om-Nom-Nom-Icon) and wrote another one for an anthology that will be released this March
  • I finished the revision on Book 1 of my trilogy (two years in the making, argh)
  • I had a short story published in a magazine in April (Bards and Sages Quarterly) and also had two more published online (here and here)
  • I went through a critique cycle with the beginning of my YA paranormal novel, which will help me streamline it for submission
  • I continued my monthly scifi serial (which should be complete within a few months)
  • I worked on the nonfiction books here on the blog (and we’re on our last one now!)

Plus other, littler things. But it’s not too shabby. I’ve laid a lot of new projects out, so I should be good to go to work on them when I get there.

Of course, getting there is always the issue.

It’s hard to plan out a whole year of projects. Things take longer than you expect them to, or new things pop up, or priorities change, but here’s generally what I’m thinking for 2019.

  • CoHaR II MUST get done. Hopefully by March. That may be a little optimistic. This is a hard one since Siri and I have to work together on it, so I don’t have full control of the time frame, and it’s hard to work on other things around it, because then I have to re-center myself on it every time it’s my turn again.
  • I have a bunch of projects that are in this weird state between revision and publication. There’s Book 1, which I finished a major revision on last year and could, in theory, be submission ready, though I would like some betas to read through it before I act on that. There’s the YA paranormal, which I was submitting, but probably needs some work before I send it out again (the critique process I put it through pointed out that the tone is inconsistent in the beginning). And there’s the space dinosaurs draft, which is pretty good but does need some tweaking. Again, betas will be necessary. All my normal betas are too busy for writing lately so I need to find some new ones.
  • The nonfiction books are almost ready. The outlining one we’re doing right now is the last one. Then I’ve got to consolidate, write the new sections, get betas (Lord), and get them out into the world.
  • I could, in theory, start a new draft of something. Hooray! I have no outstanding unfinished drafts, and it helps to write something new occasionally instead of revising all the time. But then the options, and which to choose.
  • I spent some time in Nov/Dec poking at ideas for children’s books of various levels. While the chapter book ideas need some fleshing out (right now they’re mixes of premise and character without anything really solidifying), I do have three picture books completely outlined that I could get going on.

My thought is that until CoHaR II is out of the way, I’m going to be fairly useless on revision, so I may focus on new things at the beginning of the year (and finding betas) and then do the more brain intensive bits later on. But hey! Plans change. We’ll see.

How did 2018 go for you, squiders? Anything major and awesome planned for 2019?



Types of Outlines (Part 3)

Soooo…hi? Sorry to leave you guys hanging for so long, but, alas, holidays and so forth.

Now we’re getting into the really meaty outlines, meant for people who like to know exactly where their story is going and what is happening exactly when. These outlines tend to take a lot of work and be fairly lengthy, but they can be useful because all the kinks are worked out in the outlining phase, making the actual writing pretty straightforward.

Save the Cat!

Save the Cat! is a technique that was originally designed for screenplay writing, but several fiction writers use it as well. Essentially, Save the Cat! and techniques like it have a list of “beats,” or key plot points, much like tentpole and act outlining. The different is that there are more “beats” (Save the Cat! has 15), and that they are more concrete about what needs to happen at each plot point.

The 15 beats for Save the Cat are Opening Image, Set-up, Theme Stated, Catalyst, Debate, Break Into Two, B Story, The Promise of the Premise, Midpoint, Bad Guys Close In, All is Lost, Dark Night of the Soul, Break Into Three, Finale, and Final Image. More information can be found in the book of the same name, Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder. A companion book, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, was recently released and covers the same ideas from a novel-writing standpoint. You can also find examples of movies broken down into the beats at the Save the Cat! website.

A similar method to this that might be more familiar to writers is the Hero’s Journey template by Joseph Campbell. There are twelve steps in the Hero’s Journey, each of which correspond to a particular plot point and where said plot point needs to go.

Chapter by chapter

Chapter by chapter outlining is more similar to phase outlining than the structure-based outlining techniques. In chapter by chapter outlining, you write down what’s going to happen in each chapter, rather than each scene. These explanations are normally a bit longer than with the scene-based phase outlining, though some people combine phase outlining with chapter by chapter, which looks something like:

Chapter One

  • MC is caught stealing apples
  • MC escapes from guards by using teleportation magic
  • Teleportation is illegal and MC has been seen using it; they need to leave town
  • Hurries home to pack but discovers someone has already been in their apartment

Alternately, you can combine a method more like freewriting with this method, where each chapter is outlined in a more prose-y manner:

Chapter One

MC has no food–they have been unable to find work and their older sister needs money for her medicine, else she’ll die–so, though they’ve never done it before, they decide to nick a few apples from a cart on the edge of the marketplace. It does not go well; the guards are summoned, MC is cornered in an alley and, afraid of what will happen to their sister without them, is forced to use their illegal teleportation magic to escape. But they were clearly seen; MC cannot stay here. They go home, trying to figure out how to tell their sister that they’ll need to leave–or even if they can, with the sister’s condition–but when they get home, their sister is gone and the apartment is overturned.

This method can be expanded on with the next one.

Structure Plus (Setting/Characters/Plot and/or Purpose/Goal)

I got this method from Writer’s Digest, and I take umbrage at the name because it’s not actually very structure based at all. This method basically combines with the phase or chapter by chapter methods. Instead of just listing events in a chronological order, you add more context to each scene/chapter. Normally this includes noting the setting, what characters are involved, some plot information (using a true outline form like we used to use in school or a list or a summary), and may also include what the purpose or goal of the scene is. This last bit is where the structure comes in, to some extent, as the purpose/goal information is often something along the lines of “complicate the relationship between these two characters” or “to foreshadow this major plot point.”

Example:

Setting: The marketplace, early morning, late autumn
Characters: MC, cart owner, city guards
Plot: MC steals apples, gets caught, is forced to use forbidden magic to escape, thinks they need to leave town, goes home to disaster
Purpose: Inciting incident; kicks the main plot into motion, introduces character and situation to readers

This method, being a combination of several other methods, can be a good way to see if a more complicated outlining method will work for you. It can help you keep track of your characters and settings (“wait, this can’t happen then because I had this happening after this over there”), and it can help you build your themes and arcs into the outline itself in a more concrete manner. It is also a good way to keep all your information in one place, especially if you combine it with a list of characters and worldbuilding.

Snowflake Method

The Snowflake Method is a complicated, in-depth outlining method that is often considered one of the most intense ways to outline a novel. The basic idea is to start out simple, such as a single sentence about your story, and, on each following step, add more detail to the outline. There are ten steps to the official Snowflake Method (which you can find by Googling).

Step 1: One-sentence summary
Step 2: Expand sentence to full paragraph
Step 3: Write one-page summary for each major character’s storyline, motivation, conflict, goal
Step 4: Expand each sentence in summary paragraph to its own paragraph
Step 5: One page description for all major characters and half-page for other important characters from character’s POV
Step 6: Expand one page synopsis (step 4) to four pages
Step 7: Expand character descriptions into character charts including all demographical information, character arcs, backstory, etc.
Step 8: Create scene list from four-page synopsis including POV character and (optional) scene length
Step 9: Expand each scene sentence into a paragraph and put in lines of dialogue you want to include and note core conflict
Step 10: Write story

The idea behind the Snowflake method is that, like a snowflake, which tessellates as you look closer at it, your story can be looked at closer and closer, finding more detail each time. Also, by starting at the big picture (a single sentence that encompasses the entire story) and moving into more detail, you avoid some issues you may run into by outlining linearly, such as pacing issues or missing steps in your subplots.

That being said, don’t be discouraged if this method isn’t working for it. It is quite difficult, especially if you’re new to writing or outlining, and it can be hard to sit down and pull out a ton of detail on a new story if you haven’t spent some time already thinking about it.

The methods shared here are just some of the variations you can try out when outlining your own stories. Try them on their own or in combinations, or find examples of how other authors do it on the Internet and give them a try. You’ll find something that works for you, and as you get more experience, you’ll learn what you need the most to be successful when you’re writing.

Any other thoughts on outlining types? Methods I forgot?

Next week we’ll do the usual year-end/year-beginning minutiae, and then we’ll jump back into outlining the week after.

Types of Outlines (Part 2)

Last week we discussed basic outlines, really more of a way to explore backstory and get a feel of your world and characters than a “true” plot-based outline.

This week, we’ll get into more plot-focused outlining methods. Again, I’ll include examples, and please feel free to ask for clarification on anything.

Also, remember that outlining works for YOU, not the other way around, and it is perfectly fine to use a combination or modify a method to make it be what you need it to be. (I often use a combination of the freewriting from last week with the phase outlining we are about to discuss if I don’t do a more formal outline.)

(Actually I recommend the freewriting method with any of the following methods, because it really is a great way to help develop your world and characters before you try to figure out what’s happening when.)

Phase (and Note card)

Phase outlining is pretty straightforward. You start at the beginning and go all the way through to the end, making a basic list of scenes with one or two sentence bullet points. (Or sentence fragments. This process is not picky.) This allows you to have a basic complete plot from the beginning, but also allows for a lot of wiggle room when it comes to other key story elements, such as themes, characterization, structure, etc. Note card outlining is similar. In note card outlining, you put each scene on its own card as opposed to listing the whole thing on a single piece of paper. The advantage of note card outlining is that it’s easy to rearrange scenes later on if you find that things end up making more sense in another order. It’s also easier to add and remove scenes as necessary.

Example:

  • Anna gets another memory while in History
  • School is not great because rumors about her and Tom in the waterworks have spread (Which is not great because if word gets back to the Council it’ll be suspicious)
  • Tom, Anna, and Charlie meet at Tom’s after school (Charlie is “dating” Maesie)
  • All have information to bring to the table–Tom has his map of the Waterworks, Anna has her experience within the Hospital, and Charlie has his experience from the war
  • They still have a lot of blank spots though–what is the Town’s relationship, what are they getting?

Or, for note card outlining:

(I use note card outlining primarily for revision, as a way to see what I have vs. what I need, so there’s more information on my cards than is strictly necessary.)

Both of these methods are good for determining what’s going to happen and in what order. Points/cards can be specific (“Amy’s dig finds success–she finds a series of broken pottery shards with strange symbols on them”) or vague (“They have an argument”). And both are changeable–as I mentioned above, you can rearrange your note cards or add new ones (or take ones out), and you can always cross out a section of your phase outline and add something else in instead.

(I actually like to phase outline in chunks. I typically phase outline up to a point, normally the next major plot point, write to that point, and then outline again to the next point. I find it too hard to map out every move for an entire novel, so this helps me, and it helps with my pacing too.) 

Reverse

Reverse outlining isn’t a specific technique so much as a twist that can be used in conjuction with a number of other outlining techniques. Basically, with reverse outlining, you just start at the end instead of the beginning. Some people feel like, if they know where they’re trying to get, they can better plan out the beginning part of a story.

Example (paired with freewriting):

Okay, so at the end of the book, I want my main character to have been captured by the opposing army. Why did they capture her? She made a mistake. Doing what? A mission behind enemy lines. To get something. A powerful artifact that the other side is using against her people. If she gets it, it will turn the tide of the war. Why was she chosen for this mission? There was a team. What happened to the rest of the team? One by one, they all fell.

Tentpole

In tentpole outlining, you identify the three main “tentpoles,” or defining moments, of your story, before you start writing. These three are typically the inciting incident, the midpoint, and the climax (terminology varies). This is a pretty technical way to outline and focuses a lot on pacing and story structure. The idea is that by knowing what needs to happen at a specific point, you can have an idea of where you need to be at any point in time in terms of rising/falling action and plot progression.

Example:

First Tent Pole: First sabotage attempt (or first that can be obviously tied to sabotage); arrive at projected coordinates–no ship

Midpoint: Ship nearly suffers from fatal sabotage attempt; discovery of scorched debris

Second Tent Pole: Saboteur gets cocky, starts leaving clues; faint signal detected

It can be helpful to make sure your tentpoles for each of your arcs or subplots. I typically do my external arc, my internal arc, and an relational arc (characters’ relationships with other characters). I find the method works best if you have a general idea of how long the book is going to be, since your tentpoles happen at specific points in a story (the first plot point occurs about 25% in, the midpoint about 50% in, etc.). And while you’re not tying yourself down by having to plot out every scene, you know what you’re working toward and when you need to get there.

Act

Act outlining is similar to tentpole outlining, but a little more in depth. Typically act outlining includes more plot points that tentpole outlining, and it includes a summary or phase outlining in between each plot point, so it provides a more detail look at plot progression and where the story needs to be at different places.

A lot of outlines for this method tend to do six acts rather than the three tentpoles. I like Michael Hauge’s take on this form, and have used it a few times for my novels (you can see it explained in detail at his website).

STAGE I: The Setup

TURNING POINT #1: The Opportunity (10%)

STAGE 2: The New Situation

TURNING POINT #2: The Change of Plans (25%)

STAGE III: Progress

TURNING POINT #3: The Point of No Return (50%)

STAGE IV: Complications and Higher Stakes

TURNING POINT #4: The Major Setback (75%)

STAGE V: The Final Push

TURNING POINT #5: The Climax (90-99%)

STAGE VI: The Aftermath

This was originally developed for screenplays, but works well for novels as well. Both this and the tentpole method can be a good compromise for people who worry that an outline will kill their creativity. You’ll know where you’re going, but won’t have to know how you’re getting there.

Next week we’ll look at more structured methods of outlining.

Guest Post: The Sea of Distant Stars by Francesca G. Varela

Good morning, squiders! Happy Thursday! Today I have a guest post about writing process for you from Francesca G. Varela, who is currently doing a virtual tour for her science fiction book, The Seas of Distant Stars.

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Literary Science-Fiction
Date Published:  August 7th, 2018
Publisher: Owl House Books
 
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Agapanthus was kidnapped when she was only two years old, but she doesn’t remember it. In fact, she doesn’t remember her home planet at all. All she knows is Deeyae, the land of two suns; the land of great, red waters. Her foster-family cares for her, and at first that’s enough. But, as she grows older, Agapanthus is bothered by the differences between them. As an Exchanger, she’s frail and tall, not short and strong. And, even though she was raised Deeyan, she certainly isn’t treated like one. One day, an Exchanger boy completes the Deeyan rite-of-passage, and Agapanthus is inspired to try the same. But, when she teams up with him, her quest to become Deeyan transforms into her quest to find the truth―of who she is, and of which star she belongs to.
Excerpt

It had been so long since Agapanthus had really swam—train-swam, counting her strokes and holding her breath until either her forehead ached or the upper, back end of her throat began to complain. Now she just floated, usually. Maybe a steady, parallel lap from one end of the shore to the other. She wasn’t even sure what she thought, anymore. Part of her had given up on the right-of-passage, but the other part of her wanted to prove it to them. What if she did it? What if she really did it, and she emerged from the small round boat to a feast and cheering crowds, and Leera would cup her chin in her warm hands and say, smiling, “I can’t believe it,” and Pittick would at first rest his hand on her head, but then hug her, and she couldn’t even imagine what he would say. Something about how he was wrong. About how much stronger she was than any of them had guessed. Something about being proud.

Agapanthus looked down at her legs. They were coated completely in red sand, no skin showing at all. She stood and brushed off the clinging particles. They felt like little teeth boring into her. Drops of mist speckled the edge of her cheek as the wind climbed over the Waters. She was going to brush the droplets away, but, instead, she left her fingers splayed over the side of her face as she stared out toward Shre. If anyone saw her, they would think she was odd—just staring with her hand up like that, her other hand wrapped over her ribs, her shoulders fallen, like the Contact’s had been. But no one was there to see. That was the good thing about being alone. One of the few good things.

 

Guest Post – My Writing Process

A lot of people ask me where I get the inspiration for my novels. Sometimes, a character pops into my head from nowhere—from the ether, it seems. They are real, and alive, and I know instantly that they are the one I should be writing about. Other times, I see a vague image—a quiet, numb sunset on another planet, or a girl looking up at a field of stars in the broken wilderness of some future world. This image is my sole starting point. Other times, I have a message I want to spread; a plea to protect wild places, an invitation to enjoy the connection we share with all things, or a warning to not take this connection for granted.

For the most part, I usually begin my novels blindly. I have an idea where things will go, but I let the writing take me there.

The hardest part for me is getting started. Back in high school, when I wrote my very first novel, I learned that the only way to not to get overwhelmed by the length of a novel is to go word by word. To think of writing 60,000 or more words when the pages are empty—well, that’s intimidating. But to think of writing your first 500 words—that’s achievable.

Typically, my daily goal is 500 words. Once I hit that mark, I feel accomplished for the day. 500 words a day will get you to a full-length novel in only a few months, if you’re diligent. And, even if you take a few days off here and there, or take a break when you’re off on vacation, you’ll still make good time. Using the 500 words a day method, I finished my second novel—Listen—in about nine months, and I finished my newest novel, The Seas of Distant Stars, in about six months.

Once the writing is finished, I take time to edit. First, I read through and fix up any issues with the plot or character development. Then I read it again and make grammatical corrections and changes to the prose. Then, and only then, do I let friends and family read it and give me feedback.

I long ago decided to keep my books a secret until they were finished. So, every time I’m working on a novel, no one is allowed to know what it’s about until it’s done. I guess this is because I want the story to be purely my own for a little while. Some of the best writing advice I can offer is to write like no one will ever read it. Write for yourself. Take chances. Be creative. Be edgy. Get those words on the page. After all, the only way to write a novel is by actually writing it! So, write a little each day, and let your instincts and imagination guide you.

About the Author

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Francesca G. Varela was raised in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. In 2015 she graduated from the University of Oregon with degrees in Environmental Studies and Creative Writing, and she then went on to receive her master’s degree in Environmental Humanities from the University of Utah.

Francesca’s dream of becoming an author began in third grade, and her writing career had an early start; she wrote her award-winning first novel, Call of the Sun Child, when she was only 18 years old, and she wrote her second novel, Listen, when she was only 20.

When not writing or reading, Francesca enjoys playing piano, figure skating, hiking, identifying wild birds, plants, and constellations, and travelling to warm, sunny places whenever she can.
Contact Links
Purchase Links
 

What is an Outline? (Part 2)

Good morning, squiders! Last week we started talking about the basics of outlining. We’ll finish that up today.

What are the parts of an outline?

Again, this varies wildly from author to author. A basic outline, the one most people think of when they think “outline,” contains the plot. Plot, in this case, is the order of events that happen in a story. Things like “Characters A & B discover a dead body in their garden” and “When they call the police, they discover someone has framed them for murder.”

And, to be fair, this is an integral part of almost all outlines. Even if you’re a pantser, and you just need to know where to start (“In a park, where Character A has just seen Character B, the most beautiful man she’s ever laid eyes on”), there’s still a tiny bit of plot. Having at least a basic idea of the story you want to tell is typically a good thing.

How the plot is laid out again varies, based on the type of outline one is using.

Aside from plot (and subplots), outlines might also include:

  • Character information (names, ages, appearance, personality, history, etc.)
  • Setting information (helpful to have all in one place for consistency)
  • Theme(s)
  • Arcs (internal, external, relationships, plot, character)
  • Target word counts (“this chapter should be about 2000 words”)
  • Goals (“this scene introduces Love Interest B”)
  • Bits of prose or dialogue (to remember to include)
  • Premise
  • Chronology (if you’re mixing timelines or telling a story out of order, or in a specific pattern)

Getting started outlining

Last week we touched briefly on how to know how much of an outline one needs before they start writing. While experience is the best teacher here, I find that the best way to feel your way out if you’re just beginning is incrementally.

Start with your premise. A premise is the idea of the story, like “What if Hamlet only pretended to die?” or “Romeo and Juliet, but told in space with pirates.” This is your starting point, in most cases, the idea that popped in your head that you want to try out.

Stop. See how you feel.

Next, try out a basic plot OR characters. Most authors write either plot-driven or character-driven stories, so a lot of people find one or the other comes to them first. If you need some inspiration, feel free to go through the Story Ideas section of the blog.

You don’t need to do a lot of work here. Your character can be “Carrie, 27, newly arrived on the orbiting station.” Your plot can be “Recently-graduated engineer arrives at her post to find it completely deserted.”

(Hm. I kind of like that one.)

Stop. See how you feel.

The temptation can be to do a ton of work up front. And to be fair, sometimes you need to. If you want to write about a subject you know nothing about, research is essential, and can help form your plot and characters moving forward. And some people need five pages of notes/outline for each chapter of their story. You might be one of those.

But I want to warn you about a phenomenon I call Plot Death. I see it in conjunction with NaNoWriMo a lot, where there is a set starting date when people can begin writing. Since they can’t write, they plan. And they plan. And they plan, plan, plan.

And they overplan. And they lose all interest in the story.

Most people have a general range of information they need to start writing. Too little, and they get stuck, unsure where to go. Too much, and the story has lost its magic. What fun is writing if everything’s already planned out? Where’s the magic of discovery, of creativity?

(Again, as a disclaimer, some people love–and need–that level of detail. But it should be something you work up to, not start out with.)

So do a little at a time. Plan out your basic character. Feel like you need their backstory before you start? Add it in. How do you feel? Ready? Still need more?

Start with a basic plot. Feel good? Go. Want more structure? You can plan out the first couple chapters and try that, or hit your major plot points, leaving the spaces in between up in the air. Now how do you feel?

At some point, the story is going to start coming to you. You’ll get an idea of side characters, or scenes, or conversations. (Write these things down so you don’t forget them.) And then start writing. See how it goes. Do you find yourself struggling to think of what comes next? It might help to outline a little more (maybe adding in other viewpoint characters or side plots). Words flowing? Keep going.

Adjust as necessary.

As time goes by, you’ll start to instinctually be able to tell what information you need, and how much of it. For example, I don’t need to do a lot of prep work on characters–they come easily to me–but it’s helpful for me to check my structure and my plot points because my pacing gets way off without that. You’ll learn what’s best for you.

Next week, we’ll discuss why you need–or want–an outline.

How are you doing, squiders? Thoughts on getting started outlining?

What is an Outline? (Part 1)

Okay, squiders! Let’s dig into outlines.

What is an outline?

In the most basic terms, an outline is a plan you make before you begin a story.

You’re probably familiar with the form they teach you back in elementary school (five paragraphs, intro, three body paragraphs–strong, weak, strongest–and a conclusion), with the alternating letters and Roman numerals.

This is indeed an outline–and you’ll see something similar if you go into an outline mode in any word processing software–but that’s only one type of outline, and really more of a style than anything else.

(If you are writing a technical or nonfiction document that requires an outline, this is what you’ll want to include. But fiction works differently.)

You’re welcome to use that if it works for you, but, seriously, an outline is just a plan. Any plan. And how much, and what’s included varies person to person and story to story.

Some people pick a main character and a starting situation and jump feet first into the actual writing. Other people write hundreds of pages, outlining dialogue, characters, theme, arcs, plot points, relative word count, etc.

Most people fall somewhere in the middle.

Some people jot down a few ideas on a napkin. Others use Scrivener, or Word.

But basically, you need something to start writing a story. And whatever that something is is part of your outline. You may not call it that. It may not feel like that. But it is, nonetheless, essentially an outline. Even without the indents and Roman numerals.

Plotter vs. Pantser

If you’ve been around writing communities, you’ve probably heard the terms “plotter” and “panster.” A pantser is a writer who write by the seat of their pants. They require very little starting information before they jump into a story. A plotter is a writer who painstaking plots everything out before they begin writing.

(NOTE: It is interesting to note that a pantser may still have an outline for a story. It won’t be a “this happens, then this happens” sort, but they may still flesh out characters, world, theme, and general arcs in a less official format.)

Most writers fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Some may pants some types of projects but prefer to outline others. And those writers that do outline may do different levels for a short story versus a novel, or between one genre and another.

In my experience, most writers start off as pantsers and move toward plotters as their careers progress. This is not always true; Stephen King famously does not outline, and neither does John Scalzi, as examples.

How do I know how much outline I need?

You’re not going to like this answer, but–experience. As you write more, you try new things, and you learn what works for you and what makes you want to jump out a window. And eventually you find a process that works best for you (or maybe a few, if you write multiple lengths/genres).

If you’re just starting out, however, next week we’ll talk about how to get started with outlining, and how to try out different levels of outlining to find a good starting place. You’re not going to find your perfect outlining process on the first time out, but you can probably triangulate an amount of information that will work, even if it’s not perfect.

Any thoughts on outline basics, squiders? Agree that your outline is essentially your plan, whether you call it an outline or not?