The Outlining Process

I’m working on an outline now- generally. Right this second, I’m doing b-loggy things, but my current project is in the outline phase.

I did not remember how much work it is. I suppose I should have- but because it’s been a while since I did proper novel outline, I largely felt like rolling on the floor whining. (No one can prove I actually did though. I’ve had all those videos destroyed.)

Before I even start outlining, I start by writing the first (or any) three chapters of the story. I’ll write a post on this later, but it’s really important to figuring out the general themes, voices, important characters, and eventual length.

After I’ve written those first chapters, I follow these steps.

  1. Spend a BUNCH of hours thinking about the story, talking about the story, and daydreaming about the story.
  2. Open a word document. Remember that a blank screen is not very helpful for outlining novels. Ask roommate for notecards at midnight. Wait for him to get up and answer the door.
  3. Cut notecards in half (if you’re stingy, like me). Write down all the plot points you can think of on these. Crazy emotional points, awesome conflicts, and twists- those get their own little cards. I had thirty or so (correction: 36). Depending on how long your story will be, there could be more or less.
  4. Throw them on the ground! You’re going to pick them up, read them, and put them in an order that makes sense to your story. This can take a while. You might come up with more ideas on the way, or necessary side plots- That’s fine! Just add more cards.
  5. Once you’ve got a good order, look for natural chapter breaks. I’ve seen some authors recommend color coordination for their characters/plots during this phase- like dotting each card with a marker. I didn’t do this, but mostly because I don’t have markers. Maybe I’ll try it next time.
  6. Those cards you can’t get to fit? I very sadly looked over my outcast card, and put it in the recycling. It is OK not to use every idea. Hell, it’s OK not to use half your ideas. It’s your book. Do your thing.
  7. TAKE A PICTURE!! I sent these pictures to a couple humans (roommate, friend, some poor sap who gave me his number), although this was just to annoy them. I like the faces they make. Plus, it helps to remind me of the chapter-breaks when I have to pick up the cards to keep the house-creatures from messing with them.
  8. Now put the cards into a document. I write down all the stuff on the card, and then add notes and thoughts to each one. Sometimes there’s a bunch, sometimes there’s not. Shrug your shoulders to demonstrate that you don’t give any UFOs.
  9. Go through each part of your outline, and think carefully over the scenes that should be in there. This is just an outline, so it doesn’t have to be perfect. If you find plot holes, address them here (or at least acknowledge them!).

There! That’s my process for creating a story outline. An outline serves as a guide for the first draft (at least in this case), and can be particularly helpful when your emotional state differs drastically from the one in the story- just skip ahead and write a different one.

I hope this was a helpful, human-friendly post. If you have questions, ping me! I’ll attempt to be helpful. Alas, I must return to my own outlining.

Happy Outlining!

-ARG