Feel free to ignore this post.
If you are a confirmed pantser who writes without wires or safety net and produces fine stories despite that, then this post is not for you.
I am not that kind of writer. The one year I did not have an outline all the way to the end of the story was the closest I came to not finishing NaNoWriMo. I need an outline, and the outline structure I use is fairly loose. I still want drafting to be fun.
Types of Outline
Outlines come in all shapes and sizes and levels of detail. A list of chapter subjects is a basic outline, as is a paragraph-by-paragraph breakdown of the action, but outlines have the following properties in common:
- an ordered list of elements forming a narrative
- the sequence of elements is the way the story is going to be told
So, your story might be performing some structural acrobatics as in Christopher Nolan’s Memento or Iain M Banks’ Use of Weapons, and you might have a full layout of the plot in chronological sequence, but the outline will be in the order the events will be shown to the reader.
Scenes as Use Cases
There are many levels of detail you can work at in an outline, and if you follow something like the Snowflake Method you would start with top level headings and then decompose those into smaller and smaller elements, but I like to work at the scene summary level.
I have a particular format I use for my scene summaries derived from my experience in software: I treat each scene as a use case.
What this means in practice is that for each scene I need the following:
- who’s in the scene — major characters only. Side characters may be invented as I go and even reoccur, but this captures just the major characters who have a part to play.
- where the scene starts — “where” means both the location and the emotional state of the narrative.
- where the scene ends — similarly, this is as much about end state as end location.
- things that need to happen — there might be particular elements of foreshadowing or character development needed, or just making sure that the MC hets the gun now that they need to use in four scenes, but there are likely to be particular things that have to be in the scene.
And now I need to go and work on my own outline for November.
Good luck in the wars to come.