Outlines or No?

I’m going to take time today to talk about outlines.

I know some writers that do this and some that just write scenes and see where it takes them. There are benefits to doing either method, but I prefer to outline my main story points and worry about the details later. There’s a reason that this method works for me.

When I started to get serious with writing, my friend was trying to get me to stop jumping from different plot points without finishing the one I was on. It took me two weeks to figure out that there needs to be a beginning, middle and an end that was clear and concise to the reader, no matter how many “problems” they have in the story with getting to end point.

So, sifting over this and her getting frustrated as all bananas, I went and read all the One Piece manga that I had checked out at the library (at the time they only had like 25, it’s up to 60+ now, OMG) and it hit me in the head like someone dropped a brick on my head how to solve my problem.

After having that bout, I decided that a main outline was necessary so that way I wouldn’t deviate too badly from that. If I did, it was an easy fix and I could have a blueprint that would get me to the end goal. The details could always be changed, and so could how the characters grew with the story, or who was in it (secondary characters, not main). As long as I stayed within that beginning, middle and end solid line, it gets me to where I need to be.

With that said, I’ll share some secrets that I’ve used in the outlining process. It may not mesh with what others have to say on the net, but it works for me.

1. I always leave some flexibility.

I did a first draft with Turbulence and tried to stick to it as rigidly as possible. Two things result. You’ll be left with gaping holes for your plot and you’ll throw out better ideas that might come after you’ve brainstormed a previous scene. If you’ve done it a few times and it’s STILL not on your outline, chances are it’s meant to be in your story.

It’s alright to draft several different times if it doesn’t sound right. My prologue took me three tries. That’s right–three. Two reasons–I wanted it to be less than 1000 words (or at most three pages), and I wanted something that was concise to hook the reader but not give everything away in one shot.

The best part was the prologue in question was never in the outline to start with. Which leads to number two . . .

2. Not everything is set in stone.

In said first draft, several things got moved around BEFORE and AFTER they were supposed to be in set scenes. Sometimes the timing didn’t mesh or the point of view was not required or needed.

You’ll have to do some trial and error with your parts, but Scrivener is an excellent tool for those who don’t write linearly. You can put in things by parts and if you want them later, you have them right there. If you use it, you can decide where you want to put it and in what order.

3. Outlining helps because you can know what characters are vital and if you have a story or not already in place.

Chances are you have an idea, but you just need to delve into it more to figure out what you’re going to do. I have a ton of characters and when I make a character each has a backstory. So outlining for me means I focus on a character I want to make into a story and focus on that one person’s problems, then go from there.

And believe me, I need it. I have over 85 characters with just the Renegades universe alone–where Turbulence stems from. But in order to do that first book, I needed to see where to start and only have about 15 characters in there–including the bad guys that pursue our lovely heroine. But I had her backstory and then her family, and her friends, people she works with–see what I mean? It all can get murky. I was losing myself in the details so I had to step back and see the linear line of what I wanted.

I also do this to keep me straight, so that way when I do review I can see what maybe readers can’t and go from there.

4. Your first outline will usually have the end result there, but the middle of it will be murky.

The first outline I did for Turb was extremely like this. I think my beta put it like this: “It was like finding a diamond in a mountain of shit. There’s a story but it’s very hard to find it.” Basically, you’re going to go through those, whether you’re seasoned, a veteran or a newbie. It happens because you’re still wadding through and trying to piece everything together to make a wonderful story that someone’s going to want to read.

In short, it’s okay to make mistakes and not have everything right the first time. It truly is. Start with something to get your story straight and know what direction you want to go in. The last thing a reader wants to be is confused on what they’re reading and what the plot of your story is–or even question if you have one in the first place.


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