Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Writing Method #5: Outlining

Writing Method #5: Outlining

     Now I have to admit that I am a huge fan of outlining. I've never outlined an entire novel but I have outlined just about everything else in life. Like everyone else out there, I first learned outlining in elementary school and, since I went to an awesome Catholic School (I loved it there), I learned the proper way to outline. Later in life (well, high school and college), I used to shudder when I'd see people crafting sloppy, incomplete outlines. I've now moved past that (thankfully) and can come to accept the benefits of outlining without it having to be perfect.  The correct pattern of an outline is to have at least two items in every category and at least two categories per section.  For example:


     There should be no A, if you don't plan to have a B, etc.  So how does this method of basic writing, an excellent model for essay writing, apply to writing a novel?  First off, it's a faster, cleaner way of putting your ideas on paper, but I'm sure most writers already know that.  So what's the real benefit?  It's a good model for seeing how the story flows, how the main scenes follow one another.  The thing I like best about it is the ability to move scenes up and down as the story ebbs and flows. It's also extremely easy to interject new scenes as you progress.

     This is a style most suitable for those writers who only want to put general thoughts on paper, not for those who desire a more all-consuming novel writing approach, such as the Snowflake ( or Marshall ( methods.

     How would a sample novel outline flow?  A sample would look like:

   I. Section One:  The Set-Up

        A. Chapter One: Lucy arrives in town to attend her sister's wedding

        B. Chapter Two: The problems between Lucy and Martha come to a head when the groom disappears

        C. Chapter Three: The police arrive; Lucy gets involved

        D. Chapter Four: Aunt Jenn goes missing; Lucy starts her own investigation

        E. Chapter Five: The police investigator suspects Lucy; Lucy finds a major clue.

     Once the above is accomplished, it's now easy to go back and flesh out the next layer of the story, such as:

       E. Chapter Five: The police investigator suspects Lucy; Lucy finds a major clue.
           1. Detective Smith walks into the kitchen and finds Lucy in the knife drawer;
           2. Lucy discovers a shard of red glass in the knife drawer after Smith leaves.

     You get the picture....

    My enthusiasm for outlining is tied, of course, to my preference for a more Linear style of novel writing (as I captured in #1 in my series: Outlining helps keep ideas together and allows for movement of the story ideas up and down.  However, as I wrote earlier, I never outlined an entire novel all the way through but I have used it successfully in short story writing.  Have you used outlining while writing a novel?  How did it work out for you?

No comments:

Post a Comment