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Effective Outlining: Outlining Methods

There are a variety of outlining methods, and which one works best depends on individual preferences and organization styles. Here are four of the most popular methods to try:

The Synopsis Outline

This is a 1-2 page document that roughly sketches the structure of the story and leaves room for flexibility. It hits all the major plot points but does not go into great detail on scenes or character arcs. This method creates a loose framework that can be further developed while writing.

The In-Depth Outline

This is a comprehensive chapter summaries that break up individual scenes. It includes detailed timelines, character details, plot points, and subplots. Scene-level description is usually not included, but full character and plot arcs should be developed with major pinch points noted and the scenes they are included in pointed out. Particular attention should be paid attention to flow between scenes and pacing of the overall arcs.

The Snowflake Method

This method begins with a one-sentence summary of the story idea, then builds into a paragraph, which is then used to create character descriptions and storylines. The structure remains fairly loose and branches into different story aspects. This may be especially helpful for storylines which are not fully fleshed out yet and are in need of brainstorming.

The Bookend Method

In this method, you begin by plotting the beginning and end of the story and the main characters, leaving everything else to be develop during the story writing. It is important to consider how the beginning and ending relate to each other and whether there is a meaningful link between the two that is believable and achievable. While this method does not detail out the steps between the beginning and end, you should have a sense of what steps will be needed to bring the two together.

Regardless of which method you employ, stay focused on creating a strong flow from beginning to end and pacing that will maintain the interest of the reader.

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Effectively Outlining: The Purpose of an Outline

Strong planning can help create a strong storyline.

What is a story outline?

An outline includes planning information about:

  • Structure
  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Scenes
  • Events
  • Conflict

Outlines provide a skeleton or map of the full story.

Having skeleton or map can help writers visualize the big picture of the storyline, organize story details and keep the story on track, create full character arcs, plan scenes and structure them in a way that keeps the story moving.

Outlines can also help improve writing efficiency by preventing writing blocks, dead-end plot lines or subplots, and allowing the writer to research needed aspects beforehand rather than during the writing process.

Questions and outline should answer:

  • What is the main contract made with the reader?
  • Are all promises resolved by the end?
  • What pressures are working on the characters?
  • Does the pressure grow more intense as the story progresses?
  • What is at stake for the main characters?
  • Are those stakes high enough that failure inspires stress or anxiety for the reader?
  • Does the ending make logical sense and fit with the rest of the story?

When a question can’t be answered by an outline, dig deeper or step back and consider why a certain question has no answer. Does the storyline need to be altered, or is there an issue with the character that prevents an easier answer? Unanswered questions are prompts for additional development and can provide a writer with new avenues to explore!

Apologies for disappearing from the blog for the past couple months. Writing graduate school and getting through the holidays were kicking my butt and I needed to take a step away.