Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Whiners: Easy outlining part uno

Outlining is *not* my thing. Neither is a throat lozenge without menthol. Okay, most things aren't my thing. Maybe I don't have a  thing. If you're a writer, though, sometimes finding a way to outline is a necessary evil.

This excerpt is taken from my KSURF writing class, YA Novel Writing for Beginners. If you haven't signed up yet, check it out HERE.

The first step:
Organize your notes in a way they make sense. Whether it's via chronological order, by circumstance, character or event, do it in a way it not only makes the novel compelling, but easy to follow. Next, transfer all organized notes onto a clean Word doc or notebook page. This will make outlining a breeze. Once you've transferred the notes, clarify. The point of this step is to cut the miscellaneous notes—the bulk of what you don't need. Don't throw them away, though. Keep them in the original document in case you need them later.

If you're having a hard time with this step, try throwing similar notes together to see if there's a pattern.
Example from my own notebook:
Note number one says: “She's shot on stage.”
Note number two says: “She presses rewind.”
Note number three says: “She needs to solve the murder of her father.”
I simply lumped the three random thoughts into a pile and expanded them into something like this:
Teenage rock star's father was murdered by the same man who's after her. After catching a bullet to the chest by the man at a show, the girl presses rewind, hoping to find a way to undo what's been done.”

Once your notes are organized and transferred into a streamlined version, you'll find more ideas weaving themselves in, and that's okay. Go with it. The notes don't have to be completely clear, but should give you a general direction to start with.

Now you're ready. But where do you start?
Breakdown the outline into sections. You should have a cleaner version of notes to work with and a basic storyline you intend to follow. Divide a blank page or Word document into three visible parts.

Label section #1 “The Set-Up.” The Set-Up is the foundation of your story. You'll want to seduce your readers into wanting (needing to) to read on. Transfer any notes that correspond with your ideal beginning. You should have a relatable, (usually a bit ) mysterious protagonist whose sole mission is to achieve a particular goal. The goal could be internal or external, but think about what might entice readers to care about the story. You may introduce an antagonist, or foreshadow the events you plan to carry out in future chapters but your main job in The Set-Up is to lay the groundwork for the rest of the book.

Label section #2 “The Conflict.” The Conflict is what sustains the reader. It's a continuation of The Set-Up, but a bulkier, deeper version. Your protagonist should reveal things about his or herself so we get to know and care about them. The best thing you can do for your protagonist at this point is create something to keep them from their goal. Surprise the reader with secrets or small reveals that will all build to the end's grand finale. In this section, it's easy to feel lost without some sort of outline. The dreaded “middle of book” is where a lot of stories fall flat. You can avoid this by keeping the reader on their toes and surprises around every corner.

Label section #3 “The Payoff.” The Payoff is what the book amounts to—the last scene the reader's been waiting for. By now, the audience should know your protagonist well, care and root for them. We should know their goal, what's keeping them from it and why. This is where you tie up loose ends and give readers what they've been waiting for. Conclude all storylines and prepare for the big reveal.

Example of Set-Up, Conflict and Payoff using If I Stay by Gayle Foreman:

Set-Up: Mia's family is killed in a car accident and she isn't sure if she should live without them or die, and possibly, be with them.
Conflict: She's an amazing cellist who's in love with a rocker. She has big things in store, should she stay. But choosing to live her dreams with her family gone isn't something she's completely ready to do.
Payoff: In the final moments, after feeling Mia's every breath and hearing her every thought while in a coma, we're right there with her as she decides her fate.

In If I Stay, Mia's antagonist isn't another person, but herself. She's her own worst enemy. We learn to care about her and root for her to choose life. By the end of the book, the reader feels satisfied all questions were answered. THAT is your goal. From start to finish.

Once you've written a rough version of your outline, read through each section one at a time and note any other ideas that come to mind. Names of characters and dates can be filled in later, unless it's important to the story. Focus on the main events that will drive your story forward.

Hopefully these notes will help you get started. I've learned what works (for me) and what doesn't through lots of trial and error. I've found two specific techniques that have been winners. One, is the 3 Act Method discussed here. The other, I will go over tomorrow. 

How about you? Do you have an outlining technique that's helped with your story or do you pull crap out of nowhere?
Candylandstillsick. OUT.


Colene Murphy said...

Wow, those are great tips! That writing book sounds good too. Thanks gal!

Matthew Rush said...

It makes it really hard to be funny when you write such a well thought out and concise post, full of excellent advice. I consider myself an intermediate outliner, but there are even some ideas in here I've never considered.

Thanks CBGB!

Tracy said...

I agree with Matthew. How the heck am I suppose to come up with some smart ass quip off of that?

That being said, if I tried outlining like that I might never write a new story again! I've convinced my inner-pantser that we need more planning, so we compromised. It agrees to allow me to write 1-2 dozen scene ideas/plot twists onto index cards and then we arrange them on a peg board so we have the freedom to move them around as needed, but we always know where the story is heading next. That's the extent of my organizing of thoughts.

Kelly said...

Great notes! I should use them for Jon and my new mg!

Linda G. said...

Gaah! Outlining is HARD for me. I'm a pantser when it comes to writing, and just wing it for at least the first half of any book. I trust my subconscious to keep me on the track to somewhere.

After I've written that much, I can sketch out a broad outline of what happens next, but if I make it too detailed, it tends to deflate the story for me. There has to be a certain amount of mystery for me, to keep the process from going stale.

But that's just me. Your mileage may vary. :)

Magan said...

You know how people judge a book by it's cover? I completely judge a post by it's title and I always LOVE your titles.

With that said...I still don't outline. I tried it once and then I actually didn't follow the outline. My characters and I have absolutely no idea where the story is going and sometimes when I read it again I gasp and forget that I added some plot twists.

Shari said...

Goal, Motivation and Conflict are so key! Thanks for the great advice. I needed to hear that today.

Carolyn V said...

I outline my story and then as each day passes, think about what I'm going to write the next day. It works most days. The other days I'm usually stressing out about it.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Oh, wow! This post is fan-freaking-tastic!! You have some great ideas in there, Candace! Thanks. :-)

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

i tend to follow the first 4-5 steps of the Snoflake Method. And then i'm good to go! Zoom!

Elena Solodow said...

Lately I've been an outliner in spurts. I'll outline for the first 1/3 of the novel, then write more, then outline some more. I write emails to myself. That way I can write the scenes down quickly as they come to me, usually with lots of dialogue already written out.

Jackee said...

One of the better outlining posts I've ever read! Thanks, Candy. :o)

I love outlining and when you put it so succinctly, it makes it nice and undaunting.

Feel better soon!

~ Jackee

Lindsay said...

Great tips. I don't outline in a strict sense.
I know the beginning, middle and end, but travel with my character to get there. I sometimes jot down the next chapter/scene premise though before I finish writing for the night.

Heather said...

I'm a big outliner. I go chapter by chapter and jot down the points I want to make in each one. I didn't used to be though. I was drug kicking and screaming into the light that is outlining by my mentor. Now I'm a believer. ;)

Lenny Lee* said...

hi miss candace! mostly im pretty good at pulling crap outta no where. ha ha. on my first story ever i didnt know nothing on outlining. now im learning how it could help make my stories lots more better. im thinking now im doing some outline stuff and some crap outta no where stuff. i like doing both.
...hugs from lenny

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

My outline process resembles this. I generate as many important scenes as I can, to connect the beginning, climax, and end. Every idea generates three more, and the whole thing snowballs until I have a couple pages of notes to begin working off of.

Can't wait to read the follow-up plotting post!

Abby Minard said...

Great tips Candace! I like to make lists and organize timelines and things like that. I go over each chapter and see what day it is and where they're at to help me not get confused as I go on.

Melissa Gill said...

This is fabulous. I try to outline, but sometimes my story gets away from me and i have to wrangle it back in. But this is a really good approach.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Wow, awesome post. I've been trying to outline more lately, and it's helping me to never sit and stare at the computer screen, wondering what to type next. I only make loose outlines though but it works for me!

Arlee Bird said...

I tend to just stuff everything in my head and try to remember it all and keep track of it. Sometimes I do have to write some notes or, most helpful, draw out a timeline so I keep track of progression of events.

You have broken it down and organized it very well. Probably the smarter approach to take.

By the way, I heard some news about you that is going to be announced next Friday February 18th--it's pretty cool.

Tossing It Out and the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2011

Liz Fichera said...

My "technique" is not nearly as organized as yours! Each time I write a book, I promise myself to get more organized but, mostly, I just sit at my laptop and pound away at they keys. Great tips!! I am not worthy.