On Outlining

On Outlining

As regular readers know, I despise outlining. I just can’t get myself to do it. My mind has started to shift on this over the years, owing mostly to the fact that I haven’t been able to finish a novel doing things my way. I mean, what’s the point in doing things over and over again, continuing to fail. At some point you need to make the decision: quit or try something new. Let’s try something new.

Let’s also not that when I say outline, I’m not talking about the roman numerals from grade school. I’m talking, rather, about a skeleton of a story. Just enough to know where I’m going so I don’t completely lose my way. Actually, that sounds more like a map. Let’s call it a skeleton map because almost everything sounds better with the word skeleton before it.

Anyway, I was really excited when I came across this blog post yesterday because I’ve been searching for it for a long time. What I’ve been looking for is a breakdown of the various parts of a novel, with a rough idea of what chapter each part takes place. Β Here is must an excerpt of what I’ve found and at first blush seems exactly what I’ve been searching for. Read the entire post, linked below, for the full details:

Opening – Chapter One

Act One End – Chapter Six

Mid-Point Reversal – Chapter Twelve

Act Two End – Chapter Eighteen

Act Three Starts- Chapter Nineteen

Climax Starts – Chapter Twenty-Two

If I find I need more or fewer chapters, I just adjust. If one of these events happens sooner or later, no problem. The goal isn’t to follow this exactly and make it fit, it’s to guide me so the story unfolds at the pace I’ve found gives me the best story for my style.

My first pass at outlining will look something like this (but with the details of the actual story of course):

Opening – Intro of protag getting into trouble

Act One End – First major problem that throws a wrench into protag’s plans and forces them to act outside of their comfort zone.

Mid-Point Reversal – Unexpected event that sends the entire story sideways.

Act Two End – Protagonist’s actions have led them to a point where they can’t back down, but they’ll need to sacrifice something to continue.

Act Three Starts – Protagonist has acted in ways to bring them in direct conflict with the antagonist, it’s do or die, all or nothing time.

Climax Starts – Showdown with the antagonist.

via The Other Side of the Story: I Love it When a Plan Comes Together, Plotting a Novel: Part One.

5 thoughts on “On Outlining

  1. I mirror what you said about despising outlining and needing to try something new. I have so many unfinished novels that if I had a royalty check for each one, I’d never have to lift a finger again. That being said, I recently started seeking out other “outlining” methods that deviate from the norm. I have also started working with Scrivener, which I admit I am thoroughly in love with after a very difficult start. I love what you posted here from that blog. This is definitely something I need to read. Because it’s so easy for me as an editor to give out advice and see the issues in someone else’s story, but my own? It’s like I have self-blinders on. Thanks again for posting this. πŸ™‚

  2. I tried Scrivener, but I’ve found I got so enamored with exploring all of its bells and whistles that I get distracted from actually writing.

  3. I have to laugh because you and I have been at opposite ends of this spectrum for so long, and I am finally moving a bit to less structure and you are moving to more! πŸ™‚ This is very much the kind of “Outline” I use – I LOVE that you call it a skeleton map because, besides being more fun to say, it is much more accurate! Right now, for the first time ever, I am writing a story I don’t know the ending to. I thought I did, and now, on rewrites, I know it will be something else. I hope I figure it out by the time I write myself there!

  4. Ah… the dreaded outline… πŸ™‚ Good luck, Paul! I hope this method works for you.
    I find that I have to keep the outline in my mind. The moment I start putting something that resembles an outline down on paper, I start losing myself in a thousand details (which I shouldn’t write down anyway) and everything becomes a mess.
    I thought though I could try with some chapter titles. Let us know how it goes! πŸ™‚

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