Okay, so maybe you don’t want to try a traditional outline, but I hope by now you’re seeing and considering the benefits of some type of writing organization. I’ll be honest – I don’t use a traditional outline for my novels. I use them for all of my articles. It’s easy to do for 500-800 words, but not as simple for 60,000 words. I’ve polled the experts (and myself) and have some up with some outline alternatives.
Darlene Franklin, author of Lone Star Trail, writes a one paragraph summary of each chapter. When she’s done she might combine two or more paragraphs into one chapter or even split a paragraph. Either way, it helps her see the whole story before she writes it.
Speaker and author Angela Breidenbach uses a more extensive technique:
I write the first chapter to see if I like the idea and the characters. Then I go into a style of outline like this for each scene/chapter:
Action: A does X
Reaction: Because Y happened, A responds this way. (Or others respond to the action.)
I learned action/reaction from reading Dwight Swain’s how-to book on action/reaction units.
For instance, I write the first chapter and then write an action sentence as the plot for the rest of the book. Then I write the reaction to the action. What would happen if A does this…
I fill out the rest of the book in action/reaction sentences, maybe 2 or 3 sentences per scene, so I have outlined the plot. Then I go back and write the book.
And award winning author Laurie Alice Eakes organizes her ideas on a spreadsheet. “I use an Excel spreadsheet with headers of scenes or sequel numbers, characters who are in the scene, POV character, goal, conflict, disaster/climax or reaction, dilemma, decision.” While that may seem daunting, it produces results.
“Because I had an outline, I wrote a 50k novel in 17 days and sold it to Heartsong, my first CBA sale.”
As for me, I like to use a notebook. Each page represents a chapter and includes the following:
Then I scribble out a rough outline of how the scene will flow. This helps me make sure I’m not missing important scenes while also reminding me of who is talking where.
What about you – do you have outlining alternatives? Did you try it once and decide it’s just not for you?