When I started writing I found that I spent more time reading and watching “How To-” tutorials than I did actually putting it into practice. I wasn’t satisfied with what I was finding and decided to take what I’d learned, coupled with the way I prefer to do things, and did it my own way. Here are the Top 5 things I do to outline a chapter:
- Have an Idea of Where The Story Needs to Go: I always re-read the previous chapter and make sure that I understand exactly what I just wrote, and where I need to go from there. Are you running multiple timelines? Do you have different character POVs that your writing from? This is the time to reassess those story gaps, and see if this next chapter plays a role in those parts of the book. Multiple timelines, or locations can get confusing for readers when there isn’t a clear break indicating a shift in position of the story. I like using completely new paragraphs or new chapters to help the reader identify that “we’re now somewhere else”
- Write Freely When Planning: I recently shared my first Free Write here, and it has become a huge part of my writing process. Just typing (or physically writing with pen and paper) my thoughts exactly as they occur to me, has been a great tool in sifting through ideas. Once on paper you can literally see if what your saying (or thinking) is making sense and if it is going to work. Like anything, this isn’t 100% fool-proof, but I have found writing without restraint can be an awesome way to de-clutter and better structure story linage and brainstorming.
- Don’t Marry Your Ideas: You’re creative! Allow yourself to be creative! Never feel beholden to your ideas. Things change, characters don’t fit, dialog doesn’t work and you have to be prepared to adjust your writing accordingly. Writers have spoken about for years how characters “write themselves” (that is a great example on the research behind it) and you have to be willing to let that happen. Far too often we get hung up on a story arc and find ourselves trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Be fluid. It’s YOUR story. No one is going to take it from you. Do with it what you please.
- Sit Down and Do It: I really try to stay away from cliché tips, because they’re often times unfulfilling and don’t really solve the problem we’re looking for. But this tip has to be on the list. You have to sit down and actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) Your story cannot and will not get told from your brain, sitting in traffic on your way home from work. It has to be put out in the world. I won’t beat a dead horse because we all know that to write you actually have to do it, but I cannot stress this point enough.
- Check Continuity: You’d be surprised how many times your going along, in “the zone”, knocking out chapter-whatever, then you go back and re-read something else and realize you got a name, location, or quote wrong. I’ve actually mistakenly named my protagonist incorrectly before. It happens. Use your outline as a way to ensure your story continuity is on point. It’s the best time, especially if you free write, to question yourself too. “Did I name the street correctly last chapter? Need to check that before I have them meet there in this act…” things like that will save you headaches and your own confusion.
- Bonus Tip, Date Stuff: Keep a small notebook with you. Be ready to write down ideas on your lunch break or whenever you have some down time. When you do this, write the date at the top of the page, or the start of the idea. Having multiple notebooks is awesome, until you “can’t remember which one I wrote that thing down in”. I date every new page when I start it, and if I start a new set of notes on the same page, first line I date it. That way I can always refer back and know whether that’s an old or new note for myself.
There you have it, the six things I do when I outline. I fully hope and expect you to take what you like and what you dislike, to come up with your own process. How to outline a novel is going to be different for every writer. Hell, there’s some that don’t outline at all! And maybe that works for you too. Share this with another writer friend if you found it useful. Or comment down below your process, I’m always open to new or better ideas.