Make a Specific Outline – Just Not Too Specific

Know that feeling like you need to jot down every scene in your head because it sounds so cool, and then when you actually get to writing said scene, you feel bored – bored with your outline – the predictability – because, obviously, you wrote it!

Well, whether you know the feeling or not, believe me when I say I’ve been experimenting with different ways to write an outline that doesn’t leave me feeling too bored or too constrained.

What I did before was something like this:

Chapter 1

  • Mary goes to the museum, but sees a homeless man on the steps of the building. Stops to help, but homeless man gives her an amulet.
  • Jerry comes along to ask her about a project. Homeless man disappears.
  • Mary shrugs it off and proceeds to the museum.
  • She spots a painting by…

I wrote the entire play-by-play, blow-by-blow scene. So when I continued to write the next few chapters, I felt restricted to the very specific details I wrote.

Then I read Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker. Great ideas from this bestselling fiction author plus examples from how she made her own outlines made this book an invaluable read.

Be prepared, though, because outlining is hard work. Don’t look at me like that. That’s how it works. Deal with it.

She suggests listing five main things:

  1. Main character
  2. External goal
  3. Antagonist
  4. Plot
  5. End

Then, we identify:

  1. flaw
  2. allies
  3. theme

That’s not the only thing, though, because the plot holds many events that tie to the theme, and makes use of the allies and the antagonists, wherein either the main character succeeds or fails at achieving the external goal and realizes or overcomes the character flaw.

There were also examples using stories like Charlotte’s Web or Harry Potter. This strategy allowed Libbie Hawker a faster way to write because she knew where her story was going.

Wow, that’s… that’s actually a lot. And it’s definitely a recipe for going loco.

For a long time, as a ghostwriter, I used the Snowflake Method with three acts, with disasters in between, with goals and conflicts in each chapter or scene.

Then,  I learned about the outline method that Josh Lanyon used for his third Adrien English mystery, The Hell You Say. He shows a sample in his book Man Oh Man: Writing Quality M/M Fiction.

Basically it goes something like this:

Chapter 1

Mary goes to the museum – meets the Guardian in disguise. She spots something wrong with a painting and gets a vision.

Chapter 2

Jerry arrives home to find his cat locked in a battle with a demon – power revelation. Jerry calls Amos, but when the guy appears, he reveals a prophecy. Mary also arrives – faints.

Not that I’m writing any story with Mary and Jerry and super-powered pets, but you get the picture.

So when I compared my own chapter outline to this, I realized how looooong mine was. And when I went back to edit, I realized some scenes could be a whole other chapter! Whew. Outlining is tough work. After all, it’s the backbone of your story.

Anyway, if you don’t like something you can just:

Totally kidding.

Speaking of bones, I’m going to be posting more stuff about my writing process and the things I learn and do while finishing Magnum Opus and the unnamed paranormal series.

The point is, no one outline style works for every author in the world. Whether you’re a pantser or an outliner, you will need some guidelines to hold your story together – to give you a push when you say, “Where am I going with this?”

The outline is also very helpful for when you don’t feel like writing because, let’s face it, we can’t run on inspiration or “the mood” to earn a living writing fiction.

If you want it to be your job till the day you die, then treat it like one. Force yourself to write even when you don’t want to. An outline can help with that.

Well, let’s start outlining!

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