One of the toughest things for me as a writer was learning how to outline my novel. To be honest I was the most terrible of terribles; I would fill page after page of characters doing the weirdest shit and never got anywhere with my plot. At some point, a plot device would pop up only to disappear, or a character would find themselves nose diving into circumstances they would never have even considered.
It was simple frustration that finally drove me to outline. I had zero clue how to work out my plot. Half of my writing involved me wanting to fun which just turned into a big disaster of NOT FUN.
Outlining is not as tedious as people make it out to be. Sure, it’s a LOT of thinking and confronting your character’s deepest and most embarrassing secrets but it’s also 15% dark chocolate and 70% coffee.
But…here I am now…with a completed draft! So I must have done something right! But anyway, let me take you through what I go through when outlining my novel.
What are you trying to imagine?
Having the barest bones is enough to start with. It fills your mind with a picture; an imagination of the kind of atmosphere your story will have.
As you know, every story begins with the simplest idea. My story for Ghoul began when I imagined a ghost wanting to protect her living daughter. Plot down these ideas without even trying to make sense of them.
For example, say you want dragons. Actually, dragons who love to garden. Say these dragons are the only creatures who can raise golden stemmed roses.
Now you have your plot points, ask yourself, how does one these affect the other?
Dragons. Gold stemmed roses.
And a prince who wants one of the golden stemmed roses. What happens next?
WHO ARE YOUR CHARACTERS?
This helps you to figure in what direction to take your story. Personally, I don’t need to know my characters down to the nitty gritty. I do make character sheets with the character’s physical description, a few of their likes and dislikes, but the most important is their motivation. By knowing their motivation, you’ll know exactly how to raise the stakes of your story.
What you can do is ask yourself the what, why, when, where, and how.
For example, why does the prince want the golden stemmed rose?
But why do the dragons protect the roses?
Where is the danger?!
Without knowing each character does what they do it will be difficult for you to take the story in the right way. More importantly, without understanding your characters, you could fall into the trap of directing actions the way you want them rather than in accordance with your characters.
KEEP IT FLEXIBLE
This is more of a preference. I like having an outline which gives me enough space to work around should my imagination find another spark. This doesn’t mean that I don’t know my own story well enough.
I like surprising myself. I enjoy keeping my own imagination running rather than following a strict guideline.
I’M TIRED OF WRITING OUTLINES!
Well, if that’s how you feel why not try the below examples to help enrich your outlines.
This is my most favourite method. I love writing out the different scenes on note cards cause then I know what follows, and should I need to change things I can just rearrange them!
What better way to know your story and its characters than by creating aesthetics?
Using Pinterest boards is very common when creating aesthetics but I would also recommend trying out music playlist for scenes, characters, or a setting. Basically what you’re doing is creating an essence of your story. With art, you’re making an attempting to build on the important elements of your story.
BUT, just so you know, creating aesthetics does not mean you are writing. Don’t confuse that shit.
PLAYING WITH SMALLER SCENES
I have a bit of a strange habit where I write tiny fanfics of my novels. Mostly because I know there are scenes that won’t be worked into the book, or if I feel that a certain scene is out of character, but sometimes the ideas stick to me so I have to write them out. It helps me get a firmer grasp of my characters and how they would behave in different settings.
So this is a very basic idea of how my own pre-outlining process goes about. The outline, on the other hand, is a process just as important as writing. Here’s the thing: inspiration is a fickle thing. It is not as loyal as hard-work is.
So make the time to work on your outline consistently. Be loyal to your characters, and the story you’ve been entrusted with.