Last time we met, I discussed that a major part of my writing is actually deciding what to do write in the first place. I don’t just go “oh, I have to write this,” I ask where it fits in my larger writing career (and, occasionally, vice versa). Part of being a writer, to me, is filtering.
But at some point the time comes to Write That Book. So I write that book – by writing something else. The Outline.
Almost every large work I write I write is Outlined, often in fine detail – fiction and non-fiction. I have it broken down into major sections (often chapters) and what they’re about, and often down to individual paragraphs.
The reason for this is multifold:
As important as this is in non-fiction, a good outline is even more important in non-fiction. A large cast and large series of plot elements can easily go “off the rails” if you don’t keep track of things. Writing a book, on say, Ball-Jointed Doll clothes may require certain cases of following instructions, but tracking three battles and twelve characters across 300 pages is going to be even crazier.
I have one friend working on an utterly brilliant story involving precognition. Imagine where they’d be without an outline . . .
So, me, I outline. And what’s a good Outline? Well, my outline tells me it’s time to discuss that . . .
So what does my outline contain? Let’s look into that before I get into how I make it. It sort of makes my goals clear.
First, a good outline contains a breakdown of the various Sections of a book – often this is chapters, but in the case of fiction it may be major events or milestones. These are the “big pieces” of the book that get you from A to B, be it learning a skill or telling a tale. The various sections are
Secondly, the Major Sections are also broken down into individual pieces, the elements that make up these Really Big Things. A Chapter on, say, writing skills may cover the major skills and their role in your career. A big event in a book, say a war, may start with how characters get involved in said war, what happens at various times, and the fallout.
Each Section has a specific goal, getting from A to B. If its complex, not always clear, or needs precise pacing, I break it down further into subsections – major events, major points, etc. For my nonfiction I may go as far as to break down what each paragraph is about.
You probably realize now that my Outline is, essentially, a fractal. A Section has a start and a finish – and a goal. So does each part of it. So may each paragraph if I outline that far.
Sure this sounds like it may take time – it may or it may not (sometimes this stuff nearly writes itself). I stop when I have enough information to know I can start. You can overdo it.
When you really get “in the zone” of building the Outline, it can happen fast, it can be instinctive, and it can be powerful. You truly know your subject after awhile, and it just flows.
Let’s talk about creating it in detail.
So how do I create that outline? That . . . is both organized and not, depending on what I’m writing. There’s a few methods I use to get started, depending on what works and what my mood is. Then it’s mostly the same.
Methods to get started:
Which method works best? That’s really something you have to try for yourself – and it depends on the subject. Stories usually work with a mix of A to B or The Probe. Nonfiction works can fit any in my experience – and you may not know which is best for a subject until you fail at it once.
So once I get started, and have a basic Outline, I then review sections, figuring out what has to go in them. At this point since I know the goals of the book, I can pretty much write from A to B each section. I cover each major issue that has to be covered at the very least.
If a book is larger, I often do several “Sweeps” fro start to finish, getting the Outline straight, reviewing it, and often adding more and more detail to the book – breaking each major Section or Chapter down further and further. Sometimes, as noted I literally get to the level of figuring out what each paragraph covers.
How far do I take this? Usually “until I have enough to start writing” or “I’ll know it when I see it.” One can usually tell, instinctively, if a book is ready to go.
While doing the Outline, a few things to try out . . .
So as I work on my Outline there’s a few things I do or try out:
So once my Outline is done, I make sure to store a copy of it. Because now it’s time to start writing . . .