By: Donna Schlachter
I know. I can see some of you out there rolling your eyes at the title of this installment. Outlining. Plotting. Plodding. Taking all the fun out of the writing process.
Then there are those of you who are rolling up your sleeves, doing high-fives, and enjoying yourself before you ever get down to work.
For the former, I hope I can alter your perception of how outlining can benefit you and your writing. For the latter, perhaps I can add a new dimension to your process.
First, let me share a confession with you: when I wrote my first mystery novel, I didn’t have a clue. I joined NaNoWriMo, determined to write 50,000 in a month. I sat down on November 11th and started writing. I spent two chapters developing my main character, telling her complete backstory, and sharing a prequel story to boot—just so readers “got her”.
About three chapters from the end—or what should have been the end—I realized I didn’t know whodunit, or why. I had no suspects, no red herrings, no nothing except characters I loved or hated, depending on who they were, and a town I felt like I’d grown up in.
So I had to spend time, in the last five days of NaNoWriMo, when I should have been writing, to go back, write in the suspects, the clues, the motive, amp up the crooks, until I figured out who and why. Only then could I go back and finish the novel. Which I did, writing more than 7,500 on November 30th to complete the goal and get the badge.
I learned a huge lesson with that book: if I don’t know where I’m starting (not two chapters of backstory and prequel), and I don’t know where I’m ending (whodunit and why), and I don’t know how I got there (red herrings and suspects), how can I expect to complete the journey?
Hopefully, the list above will have settled some of your concerns. An outline can be as simple as one sentence (or part of a sentence) about each scene in each chapter. Maybe you’re not even sure where the chapter breaks should be. That’s okay. Write down each scene as you envision it, then decide later where the breaks are.
There are many ways to develop an outline. Here are a few that I’ve used in the past and the one I use now.
Needless to say, there are as many other ways to develop an outline as there are authors, so I’m including links to a number I found online. I can’t attest to their effectiveness or ease of use, but am providing for information only.
How to Outline Your Novel in 5 Steps: Master Novel Template
How do you Write an Outline for a Novel? 7 Easy Steps
How to Outline a Novel with Template
How to Outline a Novel (with Template) from Squibler
Book Outline (with chapter by chapter template)
How to Write an Outline for a Romance Novel
7 Steps for Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story
Did you miss previous installations of Producing a Novel?
Generating—and Testing—Ideas for Fiction and Non-Fiction Books – Part 1
Genre and Markets – Part 2
Building Believable Characters – Part 3
Character Sketches and Backstory – Part 4
Hooking Your Readers – Part 5
Character and Story Arc – Part 6
Outlining Your Book – Part 7
Overcoming the Muddle Middle – Part 8
Racing to the Finish – Part 9
Writing a Series – Part 10
Self-Editing – Part 11
Cover Design and Self-Publishing – Part 12
Donna Schlachter lives in Denver with husband Patrick. As a hybrid author, she writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 30 times in novellas and full-length novels. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Sisters In Crime, Pikes Peak Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; and teaches writing classes online and in person. Donna also ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management.