Monday, August 31, 2009

Organization Monday: Outlines

Today I want to talk about outlines. I am trying to find the best way to outline a new new WIP (work-in-progress). Sometimes I just start writing; other times I try to outline the plot, note twists and turns, and record unique story points. Have you developed a method of outlining that works for you? Do you outline per chapter or per scene or do you just make an outline and then split it into sections as you write? My outlines generally only make sense to me and don't look like traditional outlines.

Usually my outlines look something like this:

Chapter 1
   A. Character and Location Introduction   
      Establish characters A, B, and E.
      Establish setting.
      Initial interaction between A and C (the kitchen scene).
   B. Show initial conflict between B and her mother
      B gets the letter with the bad news; mother seems unconcerned
      Mother makes the announcement to the family and seems sincerely sad; B knows it is an act
 Chapter 2
   A. Show possible romantic connection between B and E.
       Establish characters C and D
       Show how E responds in the face of B's bad news
       D tries to circumvent E by the thoughtful gift
   B. Reveal tension between C (B's sister) and D
       Argument at the dinner table

Okay, so I'm thinking you get the point. This is not my actual story, but this is my normal outline style. It works well for me but I'm thinking there is something better out there. We all know that outlines change 587 times or more during the writing process, but how do you start out?


  1. With my current work in progress I wrote out a full-length synopsis (almost a play by play) because the ideas were flowing and I was afraid I'd forget. I haven't stuck completely to it, but it did help with that one.

    On my finished mss I don't recall having any formal outline, but I did keep notes about various things.

  2. I have to have a target each night I write. Even if it's basic like for example, my MC's with family or at school or at the beach. Then I choose an element of the story I want to further.

  3. Screenplays have their advantages, because you already know how many pages you're going to have (90 - 110). You also know that a scene generally lasts 2 minutes on average, 90 pages divided by 2 minutes/scene (a page is roughly equivalent to 1 minute of movie time) gives you about 45 scenes to plan out. Knowing that, I'm able to break my outline very simply into the 3 Act structure. Act I is developing and grounding the characters, Act II starts when the "big something" happens, Act III is when everything turns on its head. I write a brief description of every scene and in which act it occurs, the more I know about a scene the more detailed I get. My story tends to "bake" a lot in my head, I try not to get to mired in details, just want to know the top level view of what's happening. Where do they start, and where do they end? GO!

  4. Bethany- I can't wait to read your finished product.

    T. Anne- I haven't ever thought of that approach. Usually I know what I want to happen so I develop the scenes to fit that. I've don't usually develop a scene then let the story go. That must make for rich content. I will try that. Thanks.

    Wes- I've heard that about screenplays and tried something similar to that with my first one. Do you have specific software you use to write or do you format them in Word?

  5. I use Movie Magic Screenwriter, if I had to format in Word I'd probably tap myself in the head. But other than MMS and Final Draft, there's some free online ones you can use that'll save the formatting issues.

  6. get pretty detailed in your outlines. I just kind of vaguely outline the major conflict and goal of each character, that sort of thing. Sometimes I'll start a synopsis and that helps...then finish it all up about halfway through the book when I'm clearer about where I'm going. But I'm not as organized as you!