Starting a new project can be a daunting task and a novel is a big project. Figuring out your writing process is a great first step. To that end, I’ll share mine in hopes it may spark an idea. (Or at least be fun filler content while you procrastinate working on your outline.)
And there we are. The start of the writing process. That pesky step before the first draft (for most writers at least), the outline.
The Outline: What works for me
My strategy is to write out all the ideas, character profiles, small and large themes I want to play around with, etc in a loose fashion. Sketching out rough ideas without fixing too tightly on any one point. This flexibility works great for my writing style. It may work for you. It may not. The outlining phase is the first step in experimenting with what could work. The only wrong way to do this is to not start.
And again, for me, the outline is not just an overview of the events of the story, it’s a collection of ideas about the story. Keep that in mind as my idea of an outline is vastly different from what is taught for writing essays.
Ideas for what to put in an outline:
- I find it helpful to bullet point ideas of major plot points (and minor ones, there’s no limit to bullet points) in a semi-chronological order. This doesn’t have to be extensive or even complete before you start the first draft. It just serves as the first step of a guide for where the story will go.
- My next step is to start making a rough, one sentence description of each chapter. Just to state the point-of-view I’m writing from and what needs to be accomplished in that chapter. Usually I only do this for about the first half of the book because by the time I get to that point in writing, I’ll probably have so many extra story ideas that the second half will wildly differentiate from the initial plan. This isn’t one-to-one roadmap with the first draft, it’s just a loose sketch or guideline for you to expand upon.
- Characters. This is a great place to write out short, or long, character ideas, profiles, or how they’ll relate to each other. Having easy access to character traits you can review back on or add to while the writing the first draft is endlessly helpful. (Especially if you have a lot of characters to balance.) It’s easy to make notes in an outline document of a character’s defining traits or how they get along with other characters.
- Any research you’ve done for your story or research you plan to do. No matter what kind of story you are working on, research will happen… add it to the outline. ‘Nuff said.
- When in doubt, an empty page in an outline document is a great place to brainstorm. All the little side ideas and cool concepts can find a space here for you to mull over. And since they are in your main outline document, you will be less likely to lose them to the hoarder space of your computer’s filing system. True story. *Many tears shed for those ideas I’m sure I saved somewhere*
A note on style
If your style is hard world-building, this approach may not work for you as you have to spend more time defining the rules of your world than with soft world-building. The only real advise I’d have for hard world-building is to just get started and find out what works for you. (And then tell me about it, I’d love to know.)
Ending . . .
Inevitably, my designated ‘Outline’ document for any story becomes filled with random ideas, sometimes related to the book at hand, sometimes not, but always interesting to read later when I need renewed story ideas. Either I write out ideas that will be useful in my current project, or the next one (or the next next one), but they do end up being useful. (Even if they weren’t, writing out story ideas is great for stroking your creative spirit.)
To that end: