Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Outlining 101

Okay folks. Roll up your sleeves because I have some info to give you. But before I do, I want to say that I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of other bloggers - bloggers who have taken the time to send me LONG emails with detailed notes, many times, even including their own outlines as examples. It has been such a blessing and so I hope some of you will be blessed by my passing it on too.

Here we go.

Now, the first thing I was advised to do was write a few sentences about what was happening in each chapter. As easy as this sounds, I knew that was almost too advanced for me - especially because I couldn't see how that would benefit anything. I needed something more skeletal.

Sweet Elana Johnson sent me gobs of great information (which I will share in pieces) but first she sent this very basic link. This is a great airplane shot of a story, but once again, I had no idea if my major plot points were in order. I had written a very tight and very complicated story, but it didn't seem to fit this standard diagram.

Therefore, the first thing I did was something no one told me to do. It was just something that felt right. I drew a line from left to right and labeled the major scenes I knew happened in the book along the line. It looked like this timeline that I found of Benjamin Franklin's life.

But, unlike Ben's, I noticed that I instinctively wrote a few things below the line that were, in fact, part of my sub plot. It was so weird to see that my brain naturally felt compelled to write several scenes that didn't pertain to my MC below the main timeline.

Then, Elana told me the most helpful thing by far. She said that ACT I in a 300 page novel usually includes chapters 1-15 (approx), ACT II includes 16-35, ACT III includes 36-50ish. These were rough guidelines, but she suggested that ACT I generally end around page 100 and end with a bang. In this chapter, things should spin out of control a bit. She even suggested I read this VERY LONG description of what Act 1 should include.

I should warn you that the above website is awesome for story structure but terrible for short attention spans. But just buckle down and read it. Perhaps, do what I did and only focus on ACT I for a few days.

After that, I scanned my Ben Franklinish timeline and, lo and behold, I could clearly see 3 separate sections. They weren't as perfectly planned as I wanted them to be, but I let that go and just narrowed in on ACT I.

Next, I was ready to do what my sweet friend Shelli advised as far as breaking this section into chapters with a short sentence describing each one. For this task, I used the outlining template in my word processor. I literally wrote chapters 1-15 and then started describing them. I'm sure you don't have to have 15 chapters, but I used that as a guide, knowing I would be cool with 13 or 16, should that be the case. The goal was to make sure I ended ACT I with a major twist.

BUT, how to make sure the tension rose all the way through?

That was actually easy. However, Robin Mellom sent me a really cool tool that helped with that also. I will tell you more about her suggestion in my next post :)

SO, for you non-outliners, take these five small steps towards your outline before we meet again.
1. Read the post about what ACT I should include.
2. Draw a simple timeline of the book, trying to split it into 3 distinct sections.
3. Break the first segment (ACT I) into 14-15 chapters.
4. Make sure the last chapter in this section is a kicker.
5. Breathe. I'll see you in a few days.

* And cling to this verse from 1 Corinthians that has really comforted me as I have struggled to learn this new skill, "God is not the author of confusion, but the God of ORDER." We serve a God who is not only a God of detail, but a God of order, and I am holding on to that promise as I forge ahead.

More next time :)


Stephanie Garneau said...

I love you girlie! We are gonna be the outlining queens. Even though my outlining for a non-fiction book is completely different, the underlying principle remains true- God is a God of order. So blessed to walk this journey alongside you my sweet friend!

Candyland said...

You are amazing for posting EXACTLY what I needed today, verse included.

Shannon said...

Way cool. Now to get my ADHD brain to actually pay attention long enough to read to the end.

Little Ms J said...

I'm saving this... I have some plotting to do and I SUCK at it.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Thanks Ladies....Great links and tips!

Hardygirl said...

This stuff is AWESOME!!!! Thanks so much for posting these links--I'm going to dig into to all these sites tomorrow.

Great post!!!


Carolina Valdez Miller said...

So many great links! Definitely time I got more organized. would probably make writing a lot smoother for me.

Solvang Sherrie said...

You really have been studying this!

Elana Johnson said...

Oooh, love your #5. Breathe. That's the hardest part for me while outlining. That, and keeping my sanity while I try to map out the whole book. I mean, who does THAT???

Elana Johnson said...

Oooh, love your #5. Breathe. That's the hardest part for me while outlining. That, and keeping my sanity while I try to map out the whole book. I mean, who does THAT???

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