So, you have a vision for your next story. Scenes floating in and out of your mind. Characters voices filling your head. Street signs crisscrossing through your dreams. It’s time to capture those images before they escape you. Grab a notebook and start writing!
Many times, these thoughts can be so overwhelming that it helps to have a more formal organizational structure in place. Welcome to the outline process. There are two schools of thought when it comes to outlining. Some find it to be a necessary time and sanity saver when it comes to developing stories. Others react negatively to an outline, claming that it stifles creativity and spontaneity.
Who’s right? Well, the only way to find out is to try it for yourself. Go ahead, dive right in to your draft. Be impulsive. Exhaust your inspiration. Then, after you hit your first roadblock and you’re not sure why, see if an outline will help. You may be pleasantly surprised.
An outline is one of the most important step in the writing process because it forces you to think through the story part by part. There are three key things your outline can demonstrate:
1. The depth of your protagonist’s problem
2. The ability of your story to adequately resolve that problem
3. The logic of the plotline to take your character from the problem to the solution
The breadth of your outline is entirely up to you. It doesn’t need to be a lengthy diatribe or a traditional “roman numeral” structure. Here’s one example of how you can frame your thought process:
This format can be used for each scene or for the story as a whole, depending on how detailed you want to be at this stage. If you have a tough time finishing the outline, it may be a sign that you should rethink your idea. Try asking yourself these questions: Does your character have a compelling enough problem that justifies an entire story? Does the resolution solve each facet of the character’s problem? Is each event in your plotline somehow related to solving this problem? The answers to these questions may lead you to a stronger, more fluid storyline.
Have you ever heard the phrase, proper planning prevents poor performance? In many, many cases, it rings true for authors as well. Those who earn a solid living writing will almost always plan before they start their first draft. It can make the difference between a powerful story (a paycheck!) or a mediocre tale (a rejection letter!).