Monday, February 21, 2011

Writing a Novel Outline

I way need to turn over a new leaf and post more post-haste. I'm going outside right this minute to look for a new leaf; I'll turn it over. That ought to take care of my lack of postings. Keep checking in, cuz I've been developing a website to go along with my writing zest, and other tiny orange peelings.

When we talk about outlining for a book-length piece of fiction or non-fiction, we aren't referring to a Roman Numeral outline; at least, I'm not.  I encourage my students to prepare a brief chapter-by-chapter outline, each numbered chapter getting 1 -3 sentences describing the main action.

I learned by doing, and this procedure works: before you write down anything, decide who your characters are (protagonist & antagonist); decide what horrible situation to put your protagonist into as your story opens; know how the story ends, resolving all conficts & tying up loose ends;  write your book's basic plot into one nice long, exciting sentence (a sort of Thesis Statement designed to hook the reader); write a one-page synopsis of the plot, characters, conflicts and resolution; now, at last, you are ready to write that chapter-by-chapter outline.

Many writers like to take their good characters and jump right into the writing, testing the waters as they go and letting the characters sail off as they will.  And, they will.  This is fun.  But, for a beginning writer, this would be like a beginning sailor setting sail without a GPS, without depth charts and proceeding without paying one bit of attention to channel markers.  You will either go aground, crash against the rocks or find yourself wanting to get off the boat.

I see first, even second, time novelists start out on such a free journey only to run themselves into a total wall with no logical, believable way out.  They have to start over, often from chapter one.  With an outline, even a very sketchy one, the sailing is much smoother.

For the non-fiction writer, the outline is equally important, if not more so.  You'll be deciding if your book will be chronological, category driven, topic driven, character driven.  Knowing how your book will read, based on what your market tends to like and what is logical for you non-fiction topic, will make outlining as natural as breathing, and just about as essential.

Within the next several months, I'll be offering lessons you can download to guide you with specifics than I can't provide in a blog: outlining will be among those lessons.  First, I need to make an outline.  In fact, I have so much to do every day that I need an outline of my life, hour by hour, everyday; otherwise, I just tend to get off course, of course.

1 comment:

  1. I like this. It lets us know the dangers of not having an outline. It's really true that you can create such a mess that you have to start over at chapter 1. Thanks Shirley.