A Guest Post by: Patrick Sullivan
The outline is the best known tool for crafting a plot, and arguably the strongest one. Though the outline is a simple tool, it will affect the shape of your story. My own outlining process has changed drastically over my years of writing, and each time I’ve felt it allowed my stories to become a lot stronger.
In its simplest form, an outline follows one of two paths, either a paragraph by paragraph description of the story, or a bulleted list of the events and story beats in your tale. You can even explore different formats of writing such as poetry and screenplays as a form of outline.
But how do you go about building this outline? Linear? As things come to you, then sort them out, perhaps? There are as many ways as paths through a story, and each will give a different benefit.
If you’ve only used one technique to outline your novels, I recommend you explore alternate ways to plan out your story. One way is the method of starting with a beginning and then writing until the end. Some methods revolve around figuring out your key story points (tent poles, or any number of other terms). A method I used to good effect involved starting with the basic idea, and then writing every scene I could see fitting into that concept onto note cards, what I call the scattershot scene method. From there I picked the scenes that fit my story the best, added ones I missed to fill in any holes, and built the story from there.
Now I start with the base concept, coming up with 15 or 16 potential story arcs, or more if I want a truly epic tale. I then decide which I like. From there, I add details, and then use the scattershot scene method. Each scene is assigned one primary and any number of secondary plots, to ensure proper development. So from my current outline, one of the lines started with (R) to indicate storyline 3 was primary, but storylines 8 and 10 were secondary. The R tells me the point of view.
Another method is to write something other than prose to explore an idea. The next novel I write I intend to explore as a screenplay. The format allows a focus on elements such as dialogue. It also removes the requirement of writing a great deal of prose, so more attention can go to the places the format works best in. Will it work? For me, maybe not, but for some I guarantee it would.
Different things work best for each writer. The odds of finding your best method on the first attempt are small. Even if something works for you, keep exploring, you might surprise yourself.
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Patrick Sullivan is an explorer of ideas across many forms, from digital data and code to stories. He grew up in southern Arkansas, but found his true home in Denver, Colorado where he now lives working in the software industry while writing tales he intends to someday share with the masses.Tags: Sequence 00: Guest Posts, Thursday's Thoughts