Last week, I discussed what it is like to write without an outline. This week, I will be discussing outlining.
Outlining is a pretty diverse term. Some outlines are essentially the book in outline form, while others are just some notes to help you remember what you need to do. This week I want to focus on the stricter, more detailed outline. For example, one person might have:
1. Bob decides to steal a car
a. He wants to steal the car because he can sell it
i. Bob is starving
ii. Bob’s kitty is starving
b. Bob also wants revenge on his boss
i. He has to research boss’s car’s whereabouts
2. Bob searches for Jill's car
a. He finds it in the Lucky's parking lot
i. He's worried that Jill will see him
ii. He sees three different Nissan Sentra's and has to inspect each one carefully
b. Bob almost runs into Jill
c. He does find out which one is hers, but has to flee the scene
i. Jill thinks she sees someone who looks like Bob
For the more detailed version, you're going to remember what you need to do, the motivation, and who is involved. You can almost copy and paste the outline, and then just create a paragraph (or sentence) for every line item. This was how I liked to write essays in college, because it was good at keeping me on track. If I had a really strong outline, I knew that what I was writing would support my thesis.
What I have found best is to create a new outline for each chapter, and to try and divide things up from there. The 1’s and 2’s are scenes—in the case of this outline, scene one is more internal dialog on Bob’s part, while scene two is an action scene. The a’s and b’s are the supporting factors. In an internal scene, this is motivation, while for an external scene, this is actions. It’s the reverse for the i’s and ii’s—in an internal scene, that is actions, while for an external scene, that is internal. Note that internal doesn’t necessarily mean thoughts, but rather something that the protagonist doesn’t necessarily know—for example, what Jill knows.
The format I've used above has some constraints, though. For one, it can be hard to track your character's progression if it is displayed so linearly. For reasons like that, I would recommend--if you are doing something of any length, where you need to keep track of many moving parts--to use something similar, but in chart form. For example:
Bob decides to steal a car
Bob is starving
· Kitty is hungry.
· Bob wants to feed Kitty
Bob wants revenge on his boss
Bob researches for Jill’s car, finds it at Lucky’s
· Worried that Jill will see him.
· He sees three different Nissan Sentra's and has to inspect each one carefully
Shopping at Lucky’s
Jill exits Lucky’s
Bob has to flee
Jill thinks she sees someone who looks like Bob
This one looks a little bit more complicated, but it is easy to track of all three characters. At a glance, I know who is going to be in what scene, what is going on, who is doing what, and what each person is thinking. It actually makes things easier to work through while writing, especially if you need to assess where a character is at and what they are doing. However, you can’t just copy and paste and work off of it like you can with the other version. This one helps you think things through, but maybe not write things through.
So which is best? It honestly depends. Not every way works for every writer. The key—with all of this—is to come up with a technique that works best for YOU and for your specific work. If you’re going with something complicated, though, you probably need some sort of outline to go off of. Both of these work, but they both have different uses; one makes the writing itself easier, while the other makes the plotting easier. They’re two of many viable techniques.
I’ll talk about a more hybrid form of freestyle writing and outlining next week.