I continually learn more about writing each and every time I sit down to write. I have an abundance of half-finished, half-assed stories in various notebooks, documents, and iPhone notes, but what writer doesn’t?
The ideas come and we write them down. What is hard for me is the outline. This could honestly be the easier part of writing a novel, short story, etc., but I haven’t seem to created a fool-proof system yet.
In 2017, I’ve learned a lot about what kind of outline works for me. I have attempted to write three stories (novel length) and I have succeeded in completing one (aside from, you know, the editing it over and over again, but the first draft is there). My mind jumps a lot, so if I don’t crack down, things unfortunately don’t get finished.
ANYWAY, that is not the point of this post. The point is however to see the evolution of how I write an outline because each way is different and I enjoy the way I write currently the most.
Let start with my “YOUNG” outlines:
Now, I actually don’t have any “true” documentation of this kind of outline because it is all on my high school laptop which is fried all the way and gone. Luckily it isn’t too hard to recreate because it’s so #basic.
-go to school
-run into crush
I think you get the point. I used to layout each “scene” with little to no description of what I wanted to happen. I would keep all of that in my head. Clearly, this type of outline makes it very hard to get a whole entire story out.
Hence why I moved on to “STILL YOUNG, BUT WAY BETTER” outlines:
This is an actual outline of a story I haven’t posted anywhere because I couldn’t get past chapter six. This type is what I’ve used up until my most recent story and for a while, it worked really well.
ONE (9 pages: 3253 words)– intro to levels, groups, building, rooms.
-go through schedule, only mention dinner and other training/free time for Al(emotion for others), end in bedroom/bed(where she realizes how predictable/boring life is)
-have something bad happen in maze, stacy messes up, al tries to save/compensate for her, but gets hurt/knocked out, Reese gets them both out
***during the exercise, Alex thinks she needs to find the others before even thinking of an escape. THIS IS A WEAKNESS OF HERS. She needs to keep her mind open to all strategies(even the bad), otherwise she will get stuck/trapped/killed.
*Have this be a recurring problem
*have someone (reese?) call her out on it, she will be surprised/deny it, but of course eventually understand it THIS ISN’T REALLY HAPPENING.. HAHA
TWO (6 pages: 1832 words)- something big happens
-sirens go off in the middle of night- high alert(possible invasion that turns false alarm, BUT THEY FIND SOMETHING(have Hal Harding on it, so when Alex discovers it she thinks her dad is in something too deep, something involved with The Center[but it’s from Cade and the other, so it’s good]): air escapes my lungs, like I just got a blow to the gut. “Al, what’s wrong? What does it say?” I look to Reese/Max/harper/whoever “Hal Harding. It’s addressed to my dad.”**ends up being an empty box because Hal destroyed/has the letter—leaders keep secret from everyone, Al finds out later that it was actually a note from Cade saying that it was now or never for the revolt, that The Center was planning on taking more kids)
-false alarm creates high tension, leaders decide to put out scout team
-group of some leaders but mostly third level to go out towards The Center and scout out surroundings for upcoming revolt
The main points to gather out of this style is that I include details, dialogue, and future connections within the scene idea. This way gets a bit messy because I continually add to it with new ideas, but as long as I review it, it goes okay. I’ll be honest. I don’t always review as I write and things get left out.
Like I said before, this outline works for me and it worked really well for a long time, but I couldn’t keep my second story of 2017 going. This is what led me to my newest and third story this year.
Here is my “I FEEL LIKE I’M ADULTING” outline:
Okay, this strays a bit from an actual outline and I also call it my first draft, so take what you want from it. This is also from my story I’m currently working on, so I’m showing it sparingly.
a few days after moving in (later in the day)
-takes a path farther out, the opposite direction of the lake (that’s all she has done so far)
-snaps some photos, breathing in the fresh air, relaxing
-she takes a photo of an odd-looking tree when something breaks off and lands in the water (small river that comes out of the lake)
-startled, her camera drops and hits against her chest
-curious, she walks over and examines the other side of the tree
-a branch broke off, the tree was very big, but still sturdy
-maybe a storm
-shrugs off the strange occurrence and starts walking away, picking up her camera. She browses through the pictures she taken so far, but when she sees the most recent, the one of the tree, she drops her camera again and it thumps against her chest
-she froze in time a tragic moment, a body with bright blonde hair and a rope around its neck
-she backs up slowly, eyes darting, and runs into somebody
-he is a friendly “hiker” (Porter Middleton)
-small talk, standard “I haven’t seen you around before” and “its a small town”, etc.
-she is awkward because of trying to cover what just happened
-he asks some borderline (like he knows) questions, but plays it off very cool and tells her to have a good day
-after he leaves, she starts walking back to her house, passing the odd-looking tree
-her vision is very narrow, she’s not paying attention and hits someone else shoulder
-he has dark messy hair and bags under his eyes, which were a striking green
-she apologizes, but he doesn’t say anything, only narrowing his eyes at here
-she watches him walk away, going to the odd tree and leaning on it
-a chill goes through her body
Woo! I’m so excited for this story.
I feel like this is a blend of the first two styles, but I basically mark every single action (give or take a few), along with dialogue and whatever connections to future events. This is my favorite way so far because I literally got through the entire plot in only a couple of weeks, which is unheard of for me. Plus, now I can go back and write the story with minor hang ups because it is already all on paper. The word count of this outline, first draft hybrid is just shy of 20,000 words. I’m pretty confident I’ll pass that 50,000 (or whatever it is) word mark that makes your story a novel.
Well, there you have it! Here is how my outlines have progressed throughout the years! I’d love to hear how you guys start out stories. Let me know!