I’m really surprised that I never did a post like this in all the years that I’ve been blogging about writing. If I did then WordPress isn’t letting me find it. Now, not everyone takes the route of planning their story. So, there will be people who don’t get much out of this. For those who do, I hope this helps because outlining can be one of the more frustrating stages of writing.
- There is no perfect way to do an outline. It’s whatever way makes you comfortable and helps you remember things. It could be single facts in a hierarchy, chapter breakdowns, or one big paragraph to give a general idea of the story. You can even use multiple methods or change it up as you progress. It’s all up to you. Maybe your characters too depending on how rowdy they are in this stage.
- Look at the outline as if it’s a skeleton. This is the framework of your story, but that’s really it. Might not even be in the right order, so you can rearrange the bones until they fit correctly. Looking at an outline this way can take the pressure off making it perfect because things will look different once you start adding the guts. Oh, and the editing is the skin.
- Design your own shorthand if you want to be detailed, but have limited space or time. If you’re going to write long sentences then you might as well get the writing part of thing. There are no real rules to this idea because it’s something that you design for your own information. The trick is remembering it because it may be a while before you get to the actual writing.
- Grammar and spelling don’t count when outlining. Seriously, the key is to just get the ideas on the page before they fade into the mental vapor.
- While not an outline, it doesn’t hurt to do character biographies. You can get a general idea of physical description, history, personality, and goals by doing this. By focusing on the one character, you can really flush them out to a point where they may be easier to handle when writing. Many subplots and character building paths will appear, which can be added to your outline in simpler notes. Will you use everything that you write here? No, but it doesn’t hurt to have them and you can do a bio during a time when you can’t get to writing. Just mark up a napkin when eating lunch at work.
- Do not believe that you have to perfectly stick to your outline. Things always change once you start writing. An idea that worked in your head might be terrible once you get it on paper. Other things might turn out to be in the wrong spot, so you have to move them around. More possibilities include: removing sections, adding sections, changing entire subplots, merging sections, and total rewrites of the outline because it’s a later book in a series where the characters tend to go off the rails.
- Know when to stop outlining and get to writing. There is an odd sense of safety when working on this because it isn’t the part you’re going to show to others. You can fix mistakes and nobody will know. Grammar and spelling aren’t important. Titles, characters, and everything connected to an outline is fluid. It’s only when you start writing that things become much more real. Many authors find comfort in the outlining/planning stage, especially when they do it alongside reading ‘how to write’ books. It feels like you’re making progress and learning your trade, but you don’t take that final step where knowledge and outlines are merged to become a real story. It doesn’t matter if you’ll tear it apart with editing too. Just as long as you realize that it’s time to move on.