Monday, April 1, 2019

Entertain Yourself With Your Outline

Salutations, my beautiful gathering of weirdos <3 I've been on a gaming kick the past couple of weeks, so I'm gonna swing back to the literature end of things for a minute. Let's talk about outlines. There's a lot floating around about how to make them, the structure of them and how important they are, but I'm not talking about that tonight.

Instead, we're going to focus on the outline as a form of entertainment to it's audience. IE, you. Because let's be honest, you are going to spend untold hours staring at this document. It has been the bane of many a novel in progress. After all, sometimes you finish and you feel like you already told the story, right?

So here are some tips and tricks for keeping your outline engaging for yourself.

Content Warning: A healthy dose of irreverence, as always, and probably swearing. Also the very minor potential for seven demons to inhabit your computer and begin making small changes to your hard drive when you aren't looking; they're just organizing it, man, it's a mess in here.

Have a Sense of Humor

Most of my earlier outlines were just bare bones play-by-plays of everything that happened in the novel. I treated it like other people were going to see them, and that just didn't work for me. Lately, I've been taking a different approach.

Whatever makes you laugh. For me, it's occasional self-deprecating humor and  my own personal commentary on what the characters are doing.

"Make sure she keeps that bottle, you ding dong, she's gonna need it in the next scene."

"And then he slams the door like an asshole."

It feels a lot like talking to yourself, but look, you're a writer. You already do that. That's what prose is, at it's basest. So embrace it in your outline and give yourself things to chuckle at when you're ready to buckle in and write your first draft.

Leave Yourself Room to Work

Here's a secret: You don't need to outline every little action that happens in a given scene. That's how you end up feeling like you already told the story and it makes everything that much more difficult as a result.

All you really need to know is what the conflict of that scene is and roughly how it gets resolved. Every little push and pull and all of those beats can can be left to your imagination. Not everyone works this way, but if you're like me and resist doing the outline because it feels constrictive, this can be a wonderful way to keep your story structured and still give yourself room to pants a little bit.

This is how the scene starts. Your protagonist wants information.

This is how the scene ends. Your villain gives it to them.

You want to know ahead of time what that information is, yes, but other than they get the information, whether it's delivered cruelly, matter-of-factly, quietly, as well as whether this is a good thing for your protagonist, are up in the air. It colors the tone of the next scene but not necessarily the actions.

Plus, it lets you be sure you have a solid conflict in every scene, and that's always A+


I use scrivener, and the fact that it lets you color code your outline with labels (they're meant to be for "scenes, chapters, character notes" and things like that but I use them to flag my subplots) so you can see at a glance which threads are dominating your story.

That can be super helpful in picking a genre to place it in if you didn't go in with one in mind already. And honestly things are just more fun when they're colorful.

Index Cards Are Pretty Great If You're Into That

Index cards  have enough space for everything you need to know for a given scene and they are easy to move around. In early outlining, when you're brainstorming things that could happen, they give you a good way to write down all the scenes you had in mind when you were brainstorming, move them around if you need to and add more as you go.

And also, they're just really fun to play with if you're a physical-spatial learner.

Fortune Favors,
Megan R. Miller

PS. Have you read Torchlighters yet? It's free until the 5th, you should go check it  out. No seriously, download it even if you're waiting on the physical copies, it helps me out a lot.

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