Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Writing the Novel - Outlining Part 2

Back to outlining.

A while back, when I started the first outlining post I answered the question, "Should I outline?" with a flippant, but honest answer.

Yes, if it works for you. No, if it doesn't.

In truth, very few people are capable of writing a successful novel without some sort of outline. Even the most free-flowing of us has some idea of what the novel is about. And even if they never commit this to paper, in their mind, if asked, they'll have an idea of where the story starts, who the characters are (at least some of them) and a vague idea as to what will happen in the book. Even if it's a totally vague idea, they'll at least know that their novel is a story about Mandy and Mike, growing up in a small town in Oklahoma, and they fall in love, but as economic hardship strikes their town, they break up and have to deal with the question of whether or not to have their unborn child or abort it. Etc.

This little sentence may be all the author knows about his/her book, and they may intentionally say, "I never outline because I want to be free to explore the story where ever it goes." But they're wrong. That little sentence is an outline. Even if it's only in their head, it's still an outline.

An outline is a basic structure for a story. A preconceived notion of a beginning and various events that will happen as the novel moves towards the end. Notice I didn't say that an outline includes an ending. It doesn't have to. If you really want to live the "mystery" of writing and see how the story ends for itself, that's fine. You've still outlined in your head how the story will go.

Let's look at that for a moment, as loose as this "outline" is.

There's a story start; characters and a location.
Story points are laid out; economic hardship, a romance, a break-up, a pregnancy.

That's an outline. Now to take this basic idea and turn it into a more structured outline, one that won't cramp your "creative freedom," all you need to do is add a timeline and vision the obligate scenes that are necessary to make these events happen.

In other words. The beginning. You may start by introducing the town, the characters, the economic setting, what have you. But you've identified your beginning.

At some point you must introduce the characters. So you will need obligatory introductory scenes to bring in Mandy and Mike.

They need to have a romance. It can be already started and we're catching it in the middle or we can watch it start and grow. It's up to you. But either way, there are some obligatory scenes you must have to show a romance growing or maintaining.

She becomes pregnant. Her discovery of this is a pretty obligate scene.

Economic hardship strikes. Another obligate scene (or several)

They breakup. Many obligate scenes here to show how the economy has affected their relationship.

They need to decide what to do about the baby.

Where you go from there is anybody's guess.

It may not seem like much, but you've just outlined the basis of your novel. Now, once you really start to think about this and add a timeline, you'll see that there are really several obligatory scenes that need to happen to connect these scenes. As you fill those in, the outline becomes more clear. And you haven't necessarily written anything yet.

Tess Gerristen, the best-selling author, states that she never outlines. But this isn't true. What she means is that she never commits an outline of her novel to paper. But she knows from before she starts writing at least some of the obligatory scenes she'll be telling. She's also already done a ton of research, which in and of itself, dictates some scenes. By the time she sits down, with all her research, she's ready to start writing. She may not know everything that will happen as the novel unfolds, but she certainly knows where the book will start, the major events that will happen, how the research will factor in, and the obligate scenes she'll need to have those events unfold.

That's an outline.

In truth, I'm a big fan of outlining. And I'll go over my outlining process next post.


Angel said...

Hi Todd

So pleased to have found your blog because I'm a novice writer, just working on 1st novel.(46,000 words done, only another 40,000 to go!)

In particular I'm finding your 10 point strategy very informative and helful as I had just started my re-write and become rather overwhelmed.
What an excellent plan-already I can see where I have gone wrong with some points and what I need to improve. And you describe everything in such a clear, straightforward manner.

I've got a novel writing course planned in a few weeks so here's hoping with that and your strategy I can get back on the right track!
Even if I am never published, I will at least finish my first novel-the Orange Man.

btw-I've added you in my links and sent a recommendation to nominate you in the WD 101 sites

Bye for now

Todd D. Severin said...

Thank you, Debbie for your very kind words. I started the blog to help share all that I've learned as I've struggled through this writing gig, as well as a place for me to cement my thoughts on what I should be doing. I really glad you've found it helpful.

Keep writing and best of luck with the Orange Man. Soon, once you're finished, I'm going to cover such topics as getting an agent, writing a query and writing your novel summary. Hopefully those will help!