Friday, January 9, 2009

The Outline

When I write a book, I work with an outline. I’ve tried to work without one, but I kept getting lost and forgetting what I needed to say and what I had already said. The outline for my current work in progress is shown in the picture above. I use the FreeMind mind mapping tool. On the left I keep little details about the characters. Lizi Mills, for example, has blond hair. Donna Jacobs has black eyes. That’s a fact that I must have mentioned early in the manuscript, but I don’t recall saying that. I’ll see it in the second draft, but keeping that fact handy will help keep me from saying something about her piercing blue eyes.

On the right side I structure my outline around Blake Snyder’s beat sheet and it essentially replaces the storyboard that he recommends. My method is constantly changing and out of five manuscripts I haven’t done it exactly the same way twice. I put a word count total next to each section of the outline, rather than a page count. When working with novels, a word count is easier to work with.

I find that the outline is a living document. There simply isn’t room in an outline to tell everything that will happen in the manuscript, so there are things that happen that the outline didn’t account for. Often, that means the outline has to change. In my current work in progress, the original story I described in the outline had one of the characters boarding a train and to go back to Saint Louis. It looked good in the outline, but when I reached that point in the story I realized that the character barely had enough money to buy a train ticket, no longer had a home to return to in Saint Louis and had more of an incentive to stay where she was, though she still didn’t have a place to sleep. The outline couldn’t tell me I would run into that problem, but it is helpful in providing information about what must be changed to make it work.


Avily Jerome said...

I don't use an outline. I never know where I'm going to end up exactly when I start. I have a general goal and a handful of things that I want/need to accomplish by the end, but how I get there is a mystery until I start writing.

I keep a separate fact sheet to keep track of details like eye and hair color and that sort of thing.

Timothy Fish said...


That sounds an awful lot like how I cook. I don't usually follow a recipe and though I have a general idea of where it's going, it sometimes turns out completely different.

Avily Jerome said...