On Writing: Let’s Talk About Outlines
January 19, 2016 54 Comments
“Outlines. Let’s talk about outlines. How can outlines can be a useful tool for writing a book? And what’s the best way to use them?”
Outlines are like a warm heater in a cold cabin after coming in from the snow. They take a while to thaw you out, but once you get the hang of them, they warm up your fingers and gear you up to type all the way to the last page.
Or at least to the next big plot twist in your book.
Here’s how outlines work – or at least how I use them in my books. (I have created a mock-outline for my book, The Man in the Box for those who are visual learners.)
1. All the Big Ideas
The first thing I do before I dive into a book full-swing, is make bullet points of all the major ideas I have for the book. Hopefully by this point, even though you don’t have all the kinks worked out (that’s what she said?), you’ve at least thought about the premise of the book and answered one of the most important questions: “How will this book be different than others like it?” My answer to The Man in the Box was simple: A grown man – not kids – with a family and a mortgage discovers an imaginary world.
2. Add as You Go
As you start writing, you’ll see your plot/characters grow. So, you’ve got to figure out where you want to jump into the story. This is particularly difficult because you want to be mindful to jump into an already-moving story, but not choose a drab opening (like, say, you open up with your protagonist brushing his teeth and spitting the foam out of his mouth into the sink and watching it drain away). You want it to catch your readers’ attention. As you write, you’ll be thinking of more and more ideas, and as you do so, you’ll just keep adding them to your outline, filling in the blanks.
3. Connect the Dots
This is perhaps the funnest part about following an outline (is funnest a word now? I didn’t get the red squiggly…). Once you’re in the meat of the book and your outline has grown in size, you get to start checking off what’s been written. And then you get to move toward the next point. Suddenly, writing isn’t about getting from page 1 to page 395, it’s about getting from point J to point K. Connecting the dots.
And there you have it! By the end of the book, you’ll have some points you never got to, and you’ll have thought of others to be inserted near the beginning of the book – and that’s what the editing process is all about. But now you have a full book on your hands to work with!
I love outlines. They keep this undiagnosed-ADHD author focused and super excited to move the story along.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Was this helpful? Share some of your outlining ideas with everyone. How can this be improved upon?