Outlines. Are they good, bad, needed or not required.
Outlines. Are they good, bad, needed or not required. I have heard authors claim not to use one, while I’ve heard that other writers can’t write a book without an outline first. Where do I stand in all of this? Well, right bang in the middle from starting my latest book, Darkness. I am new to outlining. I admit that I don’t know a whole lot about the process, I searched the web for hours trying to finding something that would work for me to no avail (not everything works for everyone), so in this article I’d like to give you a run down on what I do and some places to find good info on outlines. Hopefully these words will give you an idea on how to write them or give you an idea on making your own style.
Until recently, I never wrote an outline. I just turned on the computer, opened MS Word and away I went, typing like a madman on most occasions and on others swearing at the computer and pounding my head, wondering why the Muse was on holiday. During these times, I turn on my yahoo messenger and surf the web for small press websites and new press websites. There are a lot out there, some stay a while, others crash after a couple of years online. Where am I going with this? Well, most small press publishers I have run across lately want an outline (with or without a synopsis) before deciding if they would like to read your book. Their decisions are based on the outline or synopsis you offer.
My very first attempt at an outline was terrible. I always write from the head, and after I write the book I think about the outline. Usually I give up pretty fast and move on to something new. But I demanded an outline from my new book Darkness.
There are many references on writing the outline, or an outline that will get you in the door of editors, so they claim. Most people who know me know that I don’t do anything ‘by the book’ as it were. Instead I prefer to try new things, as with my horror website. Most horror sites are black with white or red writing - and yes, my old site used to be. I don’t like to anything the standard way and neither is the way I write my outline.
Here are a couple of the rules that I break:
Write the outline for the book first
Write the characters before you start the first line of the book.
Write a two page outline about each character
Reasons why I break these rules:
I have no idea what’s going to be on every page of the book. I start a book from a basic one line thought. An example is Darkness. The thought was: ‘A shadow sweeps along the street and enters a guy talking on a cell phone and he becomes Death.’ That was the original story line for Darkness.
I have a very little idea of who will be in my book when I start writing it. Usually the ‘bad guy’ is the first character I write about.
To hell with that. My characters develop throughout the story. I only have a very loose idea of what they are like.
There is software out there that claims to be able to help with this. I have heard good comments and bad comments about these programs, I also have a couple downloaded but have yet to install them. As I mentioned, I don’t follow the rules.
So, how do I go about writing the outline, if I don’t follow the rules set above?
Answer: Section by section. First I write a section, then write in a notebook what happened in that section. I make a list using bullets. I do this for an entire chapter. Finishing that chapter, I type the outline into one flowing page. If I find errors or inconstancies they are easy to fix almost immediately. I then edit that chapter to the best I can make it.
What goes in the outline? For me I write roughly what happened in the chapter without cliff hangers. Try to avoid too much details, just the main gist is what’s required. Editors say they don’t want to left on the edge, they want to know what happened. Some editors want two pages of outline per chapter, others want only one, and some want a five page outline for the entire book.
Here’s an example of an outline. It is just a guideline to give you some ideas.
The underlying theme of the book is family and what one man will endure to avenge his family's murder. In 27BC, Darian Farmer witnessed the death of his family before his eyes at the hands of the Elder's guards. In a time when magic was real and feared, no one dared go against the Elders until Darian stepped forth. He formed an army and took hundreds of men to an early grave in a battle they could not win.
Darian is drowned as punishment and as an example to all. Never go against the Elders. Darian cries out for God's help for vengeance but none comes. As the ocean water rushes over his head he turns to the dark lord and his cries are answered.
The above slice should give you an idea. You have to tell the story like you are talking to your best friend, and telling said friend all about the book.
This is the kind of outline I write. As I mentioned it goes against most of what has been said about outlines, in many books by people more famous than I.
There's also a Masterclass with James Paterson, that I would recommend watching.
Main question: Should you write an outline? I’ll leave the answer up to you.
Here’s a few sites where you can find more info on outlines.