Writing Tip #22

Create an outline. In Thursday’s post, I mentioned that I figured out the ending to my second novel, In the Red. Now, it’s a matter of getting from here to there — here being the beginning. For me, a very general outline provides the roadmap to help me figure out where I’m going (or a blueprint to help build the structure of my story, depending on the metaphor I’m in the mood for).

I wrote a good half of Baby Grand before I outlined. It wasn’t intentional. I just sort of jumped into the book while in grad school and was happily writing and writing, the world my oyster, until I got about midway. All of a sudden, the writing no longer seemed purposeful. I was confused and all over the place. It was then that I created an outline — nothing specific, mind you — just enough to get me from Point A to Point B:

Chapter 34: Heroine does this, Bad Guy does that.

Chapter 35: Pissed off that Heroine did that, Bad Guy does this.

That kind of thing.

And it helped. A lot. As I mentioned Thursday, there were times as I was writing Baby Grand when that outline served as a beacon in the darkness — and some days along the way were really dark. The outline changed along the way too, because you’re far more knowledgeable about your book as you write it than you are at the beginning. I stuck in new chapters and deleted ones, or changed the sequence of events.

I’ve often heard writers say that they feel confined by an outline. I’m not sure I understand why. To me, it’s like a professor’s syllabus (another metaphor, yes): “Okay, students, this is what I plan to do, but we all know that I will get caught up in the discussion of Mark Twain, which may lead to a discussion of newspaper writing, and we may never get to Edith Wharton.”

The outline is just that — a plan. And I never felt confined, because, as you can see, my outline just provided the basics. Trust me, there are plenty of ways you can go with “Bad guy gets pissed off.”

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3 thoughts on “Writing Tip #22

  1. I’m so glad someone outlines the same way I do! I thought I was just lazy, lol. I usually do what you did with Making Baby Grand–I chug along on the writing train until I get stuck. That’s when the outline gets made and comes in handy for me. Starting a book is never a problem; it’s around the 40K point that I lose focus or run out of on-the-spur-of-the-moment ideas and need a plan. Oh–your syllabus metaphor is brilliant! Outlines are exactly like that!

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