I always used to think of myself as a pantser. I flew by the seat of my pants when writing. No outlines. Just a vague idea of where I was going. But that didn't work out too well. I found myself stuck doing a lot of revisions. Major revisions. Months of trying to figure out where my story was actually going. And how to fix it.
So I decided to outline. Go ahead, Google outlining a novel. You'll get a million links and if you're anything like me you will be overwhelmed. None of them work if you don't understand plot. So, I then started reading books on writing. I have a ton of books on writing. All helping with the whole process including outlining and plot. It's taken years to get where I am. And it's a mangle of methods all pulled into one that fits me, my style, and just generally is geared for me.
Even with this outlining method I still go astray. Usually I know where my story starts and ends, but have a hard time keeping them on the original path I intended. Most of the time my characters demand to go in a completely different direction, and I let them. That's part of the fun of writing, and the pantser still living inside me.
So I guess I'm a mixture of a pantser and an outliner. I'm cool with that. And I firmly believe that every writer should try multiple methods before deciding what works best for them. So try being a pantser. Try outlining. Learn your way to the best method for you.
Rather than tell you how to outline, I thought I'd give you some pointers. Then I'll give you my method. (Which I am still tweaking, but it's better than it used to be.)
The Snowflake Method:
I still have no idea how this works for some writers. Apparently it does, and I am not one of those writers who has fully grasped this concept. But that's okay. Everyone is different in their writing methods.
This method starts out simple. Write a one sentence summary. (This is where they lose me. lol) Of course, you need to know exactly what your story is about. I almost never can trim it down to one sentence until closer to the end, though, I have found that I'm getting better at this as I mature as a writer.
Next comes expanding that into a paragraph summary, noting the main plot. Then add characters. Then go back to that paragraph summary and expand each sentence (plot point) into it's own paragraph summary. Now, go back to your characters and write full page descriptions of each one.
You'll then revisit those paragraph summaries you just expanded, before the characters expansion. Expand these. And from what I've read, you just keep expanding until you have a good outline or rough draft.
I cannot work like this. At all. But, maybe you can. If you'd like to give it a try, you can find out more about this method here.
Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet:
One of the more popular methods to outline used by novelists and screenwriters alike is the Beat Sheet from Blake Snyder's Save the Cat.
I have tried this method. I have the book. I tried it desperately to make it work for me. I. Just. Cannot. Do. It. (Insert weeping.) I want to be able to understand it. However, my brain just doesn't want to comprehend it. It's simple, too. And everyone loves it. I recommend it all the time, because I know how popular and loved it is. I just wish I could use it correctly.
If you'd like to try it out I suggest you buy your own copy of Save the Cat and dissect every beat sheet included. And here is a link to more beat sheets to study.
Christina Farley's Outlines:
Young Adult / Middle Grade author Christina Farley has her own outline that you can print out from her website. It's awesome. A really great tool. I actually have created my own version based off of hers for my own outlining. I'm using it as a part of my outlining process for NaNo this year.
She even gives you a simple outline of what should be happening in each chapter. I had to rework it since tend to write more chapters than the twenty chapters she outlines. If you write New Adult you will need more chapters. And if you write Middle Grade you'll need less chapters. Tweak it. That's how you get better and learn your own writing quirks.
Writer's Digest posted this great article on 7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline. This is the method that most closely resembles the method I put together on my own. It's my go-to method and one I will probably never fully stop using. It's simple and flexible. Which is good, because I always go off on tangents with my manuscripts.
Someone once said, I can't remember who, that writing is like a map. As long as you know your starting point and ending point there are multiple ways to get there, and that's okay.
This method has you figuring out your premise. This is important if you want to outline anything else. If you don't know what your premise is, you can't outline at all. Then you'll need to sketch out scenes, characters, and settings. Once you have that you're able to create that outline, condense it, and put it into action.
First Draft in 30 Days:
This is where I first learned how to start properly creating outlines. Love this book. Seriously, check it out. It's full of excellent advice. Wiesner lays out detailed information about the different plot points your manuscript should have. She has worksheets for character sketches, scene sketches, setting sketches, ... It's really worth having it. It also is the base of my own outlining method.
No Outline Method: (Pantser Method)
Writer's Digest also posted this article on the 6 Secrets To Writing a Novel Without an Outline. I won't go into it much, mostly because when I write without an outline, I don't think about these things at all. I just let the character take me where ever they want. But you are more than welcome to check out these ideas (or are they secrets?).
I usually start out with a blank spiral notebook. I use Wiesner's plot points from her First Draft in 30 Days book. Each plot point gets a separate page in the spiral. These are broad plot points that usually run the entire book, sort of like threads, rather than scenes. Each character and each setting gets a separate page in the spiral notebook as well.
Once I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what the story is about and who my characters are I will start creating scenes in the remaining pages of the spiral. I don't worry too much about where I put them in order. Mostly because I am still trying to get a handle on the smaller plot points. When I'm done with all of the scenes I will create note cards with the different plot points on them. Then I take over the living room, and spread out the note cards. I will reorder them, adding new cards where there is a plot hole, and even taking away cards for scenes that don't serve a purpose.
After I've completed this I will create a new project in Scrivener. It allows me to create a "corkboard" of sorts. If you have Scrivener then you know what I mean. If not, that's for another blog post. After I create scenes for each note card in Scrivener I can put away the physical ones for good. Now all I need is to write the story. Each scene already has a file and a note attached as to what needs to happen in that scene.
Once I've written the entire manuscript I will go back through and re-write the Scrivener note cards, because as I said above, I tend to veer off in other directions. So I need to make sure my plot notes match the actual written words.
Next, it's revision time. And that's a whole different post as well.
How do you like to outline? Or are you a pantser? Possibly a pantser hybrid?