A novice writer friend asked me today about outlining. She said she’s no good at it. I told her I might not be her best person to ask for advice.
You see, it’s not that I suck at outlining, I just hate following someone else’s rules. (I’m a rebel like that.) But, as I’ve had some experience doing it a bunch of different ways, I tried to fill her in on some options.
My go-to method of writing goes something like this:
- Pants the book up until the point where I hit a wall of O.O OMG, WTF happens now???
- Look at my story like a road trip. I’m here, 20k into the book, and I know what happens at the end around 80k. WTF am I going to do between here and there?
- Instead of drawing a map, I think about all the cool sites to see between exit 20k and exit 80k. Some involve a little drive off the beaten path, but I need to hit them before the end. I write those down.
- Sometimes I put them in order, but sometimes I don’t. It’s a road trip. It doesn’t matter how long it takes me to get to exit 80k so long as I get there.
- Examples of sites-to-see on a manuscript I’m working on now: “Learns to read” and “Breaks back into tower.” They aren’t really descriptive, but they are reminders of things I need to do. I have multiple “site-cards” for Kiss of Eternity that say “Don’t forget about the damn cat.” (Because yes, I kept forgetting Nikita.)
This method…isn’t going to work for everyone. It’s too loose and it doesn’t fit all books. Take category romance as an alternate example. Category romance is trope driven rather than plot or character driven. Which means what individuals would do or what needs to happen for plot doesn’t matter so much. I mean, it does, but not at the outline stage. Let me explain further. The one I’m working on now (tentatively titled) Blackmailed by the Hero has three tropes: wrong bed (instigator trope), blackmail (driving trope), and Brother’s Best friend (troubling trope). My rough outline looks something like this:
- Gets in bed with hero, thinking he’s someone else
- He blackmails her to date him (be sure to show good, forgivable reason)
- She avoids getting close to him because her brother warned her away years ago
- They get to know each other
- She caves and gives into the sexual tension
And so on. The interesting (good and bad) thing about category romance outlines like this is if another book needs the same tropes, you can almost use the exact same outline to build your (more unique) synopsis.
Other things I’ve tried?
- Simple 3 Act Plotting
- Act 1: Drive your MC up a tree
- Act 2: Throw rocks at him/her
- Act 3: Let them down again
- Save the Cat (by Blake Snyder): I HIGHLY recommend reading this book. Thing is, it’s structure is for screenplays. While it works as a basis for novel writing too, it was almost too much structure for me.
- This odd thing one editor wanted that didn’t really include plot or anything. It was all about how the characters felt and why. Totally did not work for me. I did it, but writing the book after that was painful.
- A new method to me is a blob method that I won’t mention other than to say it seems interesting, but I have yet to write a book using it.
What does all this mean to you?
Learning about all sorts of plotting/outlining methods can be helpful to you as an author. I take little bits and pieces from all these systems now when I get to the road-mapping stage. I think about Blake Snyder’s mid-point and reversals. I think about the emotional impact of stuff on characters. I think about rocks–lots and lots of rocks. And yes, I even think about tropes. But at the end of the day, I go back to the road map because it’s what works best for me.
Learn everything you can…and then figure out what works for you. How much structure do you want/need? Do you focus more on characters/plot/tropes? The point of all of this is, if it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t matter how well it works for a million other people. Find what works for you and your book.