Tuesday Craft: Outlines

Everyone seems to have crazy-different ideas about whether an outline’s useful or what one looks like or whether you definitely need one but what it comes down to is that an outline or a synopsis or a bunch of round bobbly lines with squiggles and your characters’ names on them is really just a writer’s way of imposing external structure on a baby plot idea.

So in that sense, your outlining method or lack thereof actually says more about you than it does about your book. Neatnik? Hello tidy outline. Free spirit? Jotted notes on napkins and precious little else. I guess what I’m trying to say is if you try on someone else’s outline method and it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean you’re not an outliner necessarily. It just means you can’t wear that writer’s outline style. It looks clunky on you. Or shows too much boob. Whatever. You need something that works with your personality.

For me, it’s a two page synopsis. Not a blow by blow of each chapter, but rather an absolute skimming over of important plot points leading up to the end. Yes, I always have the end before I start. I just have to. Part of my personality, see? Goal oriented. I’m so predictable. Anyway, mine reads very much like the story itself. What, you want an example? Suuuure you do. Well, here’s the first two paragraphs from my synopsis for BALLAD (Oct 09), the sequel to LAMENT (Oct 08).

JAMES MORGAN (kick-ass bagpiper, disillusioned teen, cut-rate psychic) knows that following his high school crush and former best friend DEE MONAGHAN to the posh and weird THORNKING-ASH Conservatory is an exercise in futility. But then again, when you’re 17, most things are. Does he hope that she will fall out of love with her supernatural boyfriend (who’s living with the fairies – c’mon) and fall in love with him? Yeah. Does he think it will actually happen? Not. a. chance.

It only take 2.5 seconds for things to get weird at Thornking-Ash. Every evening, James sees a weird, antlered figure walk the hills behind the school, singing to the dead – and no one else seems to notice. Then Dee asks James if he’s seen any faeries lately. Never a good sign. Oh yeah, and PATRICK SULLIVAN assigns Hamlet. Nothing like Danish suicide to set a positive tone for the year.

Will my method work for you? Mebbe. It’s not the only one out there. I went through several before I found one that worked reliably for me.

8 thoughts on “Tuesday Craft: Outlines

  1. I will forever be stuck now, looking at outlines and thinking, “Does this show too much boob?”

    This is your fault.


  2. This is great! I like the way you’ve boiled it down and kept the tone/voice of the story itself. *makes note to self for revising long-winded outline*

  3. Oh mine used to be so long and boring that even I couldn’t be bothered to read them and actually, you know, USE them.

  4. *love* this! (I tried writing without an outline, got horribly lost, and then proceeded to drown myself in the Most Detailed and Boring Outline Evar. So now I just sort of scribble notes to myself. I like your method waaay better! :P)

  5. The good part about this method is you can tweak it to reflect the truth of the finished ms afterwards and have a ready built synopsis to give to agents.

  6. I like your “to each her own” attitude 🙂 For me it works to apply different techniques depending on the project I’m working on as well.

  7. You’re right — I’ve found that each project really does demand a different approach, sometimes radically so. We just have to pay attention to when we get stuck and realize that it may mean we need to revamp what/ how we’re doing.

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