This is a looooooooooong post: Prepare yourself.
I am an avid outliner. A lot of people who talk about outlining, get real technical, real quick which I think dissuades some people who are less technical, from doing outlining. I hope my strategy is easy, but also detailed enough to help you perfect your time management and organization when noveling.
Note: I haven’t tried this method with short stories. I’ll update as soon as I do.
Step one: Throw Up
This is a sloppy sketch. This is how my mind works when an idea first comes. Just ideas and thoughts in a super disorganized fashion. It’s like, “GIMME A PEN!” wagging a hand at the person next to you, or digging in your purse in the bank, or rushing out of the bathroom…. and you just write down stuff as fast as possible before you forget!! Throw up looks like this:
stripper girlfriend, detective, in my city, no sex, pile of bodies, inside out, detective is grumpy, kidnapping…. etc. etc.
That’s a little bit of throw up from my first published novella. It kinda sums up the idea of the story without ANY firm details. The throw up might not always sum up the story, either. It’s just your first EXPLOSION of thoughts in the most discombobulated way imaginable.
Getting this on paper creates a sense of release. I think it gives your brain a rest when you just get it out and you are comforted to know that you got that on paper and wont forget it! It’s kind of like venting. You all of a sudden are like, “Okay… Now we move on.” And get organized.
Step two: Premise Sentence
Warning: this section was actually a bit challenging for me, however I just did my best and moved forward. It doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect, outlining usually isn’t, but this sentence is your gateway to understanding your title, getting your back cover text, synopsis and various book blurbs! You can fine tune it for future use, later.
I LOVE this method from KM Weiland. I’m sure she took it from somewhere else. Lol. The Premise Sentence is probably as old as time. I didn’t look it up to find out but such a serious writing concept isn’t new.
Basically, this is a more detailed, but not fully detailed, statement of your story with a few key story elements included.
From Weiland’s Blog, here is how she suggests creating a premise sentence. Start by answering the following questions:
- Who is the protagonist?
- What is the situation in which he/she finds themselves in the beginning of the book?
- What is his/her objective?
- Who is the opponent?
- What will be the disaster that ends the normal world and forces the character into the adventure world of the second act?
- What’s the conflict?
Now, here is an example of a premise sentence from Weiland’s blog:
Restless farm boy (situation) Luke Skywalker (protagonist) wants nothing more than to leave home and become a starfighter pilot, so he can live up to his mysterious father (objective). But when his aunt and uncle are murdered (disaster) after purchasing renegade droids, Luke must free the droids’ beautiful owner and discover a way to stop (conflict) the evil Empire (opponent) and its apocalyptic Death Star.
Craft something similar for your book. I’ve done this a few times. One premise sentence was really short, the other was super long and all in between. Ignore the fact that the above sentence is really short. Just do your best!
Once you complete your book or outline, you will know even more about your book and be able to fine tune this gold mine and use it for so many things.
Step three: Vomit
This is a fancy version of throw up. In this portion, Weiland (she doesn’t call it Vomit) suggests writing EVERYTHING you know about your story, line by line, in a smidge more detail than the throw up, and she means everything. YES! This made my heart happy. It was indeed my favorite part of this new outlining process.
- My character is named Michael Taylor
- he is a detective
- he is chasing a serial killer
- his girlfriend is a stripper
- he works for the police department in my city
- he is from my city
- he is mean as hell
- he cant follow through with sleeping with his stripper girlfriend
- he has a brother
- his parents are dead
- he doesn’t have a partner
- he loves his job
- other detectives envy him
- he is attractive to women
- he is black
- he can be withdrawn from others
- he finds DNA of the killer…
And the list goes on.
For this one, I would suggest writing it one line at a time like I did above. The throw up is just everywhere, but the vomit is a little more neat. Because when you are done with all the details you can think of, and I mean ALL… we move on to…
Step four: Plot holes
This is where you start the beating. Beating yourself up that is! Look at the first sentence of you vomit:
Mine is: My characters name is Michael Taylor.
Now, any issues with that? Any questions readers might have?
Yes: Why is his name Michael Taylor?
Because I secretly named him after a celebrity crush and I like the name Taylor. No importance to the name at all.
Next: He is a detective.
Now, any issues with that? Any questions readers might have?
Yes: Why isn’t he just a plain old cop?
Because I want him to have a desk job and detect, not be on a beat or wear a uniform.
Get my drift?
Some of your vomit will not require questioning at all, but don’t hold back!
For instance, I said he is from my city. That’s not a big deal, right? Authors do that all the time, but would that create a conflict? Would readers question the importance of my city or find fault in the realism of my work because they know the area or have done research? Why not use a fictional city to avoid that? etc. etc.
There could be tons of plot holes or questions about your work, BE HARD ON YOURSELF! Because guess what, reviewers will be hard on you, AND your work will be harder to write if you don’t discover these holes now!
Write these questions and answers just as you did the Vomit. I numbered all of my vomit sentences and used the numbers to organize the plot holes.
Once you are “done” take those answers and ask more questions. Do it the exact same way that you questioned your vomit. Ask and answer, ask and answer. When you feel there is not another single thing you can ask or answer, then you’re REALLY done.
Step five: Plot Points
This was hands down the hardest part for me in getting everything outlined. I pushed through because it was important for me to try the process at least once. Now, it’s getting a little easier.
I’ll start with this graphic from Revising the 7-Point Story Structure by John Berkowitz.
In depth, the parts we will structure now are those 7 non-bolded words.
- Inciting incident – writers often trick other writers by calling this a hook. They are the same thing. This establishes characters and starting states.
- Plot point 1 – This is a call to action and is when the primary conflict is revealed.
- Pinch 1 – This puts pressure on characters and forces them into action.
- Midpoint – This is a movement from reaction to action where the character gets busy solving their issue.
- Pinch 2 – In this part, the character is really pushed by some devastating loss.
- Plot point 2 – This is when the character finds that last piece of the puzzle and is ready to solve the case!
- Climax – This is the final throw down and resolution to the story. This is NOT necessarily the last chapter.
For these, I couldn’t really find details on how long each part should be, but I decided that I would write as much on each point as I needed to in order to understand my story. For instance, for my 1st novella with my female PI, these are some of my 7 points:
Inciting Incident : Attack and death of 1st girl.
Plot point 1 – Meet Alyssa, her great life, three dead girls in local university news.
Pinch 1 – Alyssa is assaulted, recovery, makes a decision to figure out who attacked her and killed the others.
The inciting incident is all of 6 words, but as I move forward, I have to say more about each plot point. Do what you need to do in order to get the best out of your story.
Lastly, don’t forget that you can pinch and pinch and pinch your character as many times as you want. lol. These 7 points are standard but many books, movies and shows have multiple plot points and pinches for their characters to over come… Think Star Wars. Characters are getting pinched left and right!
It’s kind of like this some times: Pinch 1, Midpoint, Pinch 2, Midpoint, Pinch 3, Midpoint, Pinch 4 THEN Plot Point 2 and Climax. lol.
Some of the best stories have tons of Pinches and turns!
Step six: Full Outline
Here we get to the meat and potatoes.
Excuse the typos and horrible grammar…
Here is page one for my outline on book 2. Character names are blacked out because there are some spoilers in those details. This page is set up as I do in all outlines to remind me of those important details like ages, timeline information, relationships, new characters, and brief details of the story.
Here, I put in my plot points and then build around them.
Literally: I put the 7 or more plot points in my table and then add details all around by adding more rows to my table. I use the Vomit to gather my ideas (told you it was important!) and I put them in the right order all around my plot points.
That’s pretty much it! But, then there was more!
I also use this format to keep notes. Here are some of the things I keep track of here:
- Notes for editing
- Added details that I neglected to outline
- Plot changes that were motivated by my pushy characters
- Page counts and word counts
- New characters who may recur
- Character details that I want to remember for future titles
- Notes for future titles
- Quotes! I often hear my characters speaking…
And remember: Feel free to write down things that are not part of my process! This is YOUR outline, do what you need to do to be successful once you start your writing.
Have a friend look at your outline. This was hard for me because I don’t always like to share my stories before they are complete (outside of beta readers) so giving someone my FRESH thoughts and ideas is kinda scary. lol. BUT it has made a world of difference. Give it a try.
Outlining is intended to be helpful. It should help you speed up your writing, keep it succinct and organized and eliminate as many plot holes and middle sink holes as possible. If outlining doesn’t help you, then don’t do it! It’s not a requirement.
Hopefully this sharing my process will help you in some way! Even if you realize that this is not for you, knowing what doesn’t work for you is just as important as knowing what does work.
Leave a comment and let me know what your outlining process is, how you like mine and let’s share thoughts on writing and outlining as a whole!
Thank you for reading.
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