How to Write a Book: Outlining

Chess Board - TwitterI am aware that I just lost a lot of pantsers. I’m going to ask you to come back and give me an opportunity to woo you. I’ll even hold your hand if you want, but I’m running at the first sign of a restraining order. Stick with me through this post. Let’s see what we can do about this outlining idea.

There’s a reason we learn to outline in school: it’s a very useful skill to have, even if you’re not a writer. If you are a writer, it can be invaluable.

But, Zan, I hate outlining.

Here’s a thought: if you hate it, maybe you’re not doing it right.

But I’m a pantser. I like to just let the story flow.

There are people who can do this. If you’ve already finished books and published, ignore me. If, however, you either can’t finish a book or you get stuck in forever edits, let me try to help you. It might not work. The fun thing about anything artistic is that there is no real right way or wrong way; there’s only the way that works for you.

So, how do you outline a novel?

Start with the basics. Every book (except some really trippy random stuff) has a similar form to it. You have the opening, the first inciting moment, the second inciting moment, the faux climax, the oops moment, the third inciting moment, and the finale. (Yes, some of these are my own very technical terms.)

I didn’t outline for Veneri Verbum, but I did have these major plot points figured out. I’ll use that as an example. If you haven’t read it, you can still get an idea of what I mean.

If you are new to outlining, you hate outlining, or you’re a pantser and really against having the book set in stone (which it isn’t, but that’s a different post), just get down these key points:

  1. The opening. Get the who, the where, and the how at the very least. For me, it was Christopher, at his computer, trying to write a novel in one month.
  2. The first big moment. It’s not set in stone. If you really feel like writing it down limits you, write down several possible first big moments. You’ll end up with more of a flow chart than an outline… and that’s okay. For VV, it was Christopher realizing he’s not in Kansas (or at his computer) any longer.
  3. The second big moment. This will be the one that propels the story. In Christopher’s case, it was realizing that he had to get home or he would destroy the known universe.
  4. The faux climax. This is when your reader briefly thinks that big moment #2 is being resolved. In my story, it was getting everyone– almost– on the train.
  5. The big oops. Okay, the story isn’t resolved. Almost everyone got on the train.
  6. The third big moment. This is the one that has everyone sitting on the edge of their seats, holding their breath, waiting to see what happens. I think I sort of skipped through this one without touching down. Veneri Verbum is weaker for it.
  7. The finale or true climax. This is when everything comes together in a neat little package. That final chapter wraps it all up with a bow if you do it right. When Christopher… wait. That would be a major spoiler. Nope, not revealing that one. Sorry!

So, there you have it. Seven steps. Seven little bitty tiny steps. You can do that, right? (Note: if you’re using the flowchart method, then you’ll branch off at each inciting point, so you might have more than seven steps. “Might” in this case means “will”.)

There’s your homework. Go do your outline. No, no whining. I already told you this is not a safe zone. I will have to mock the whiners and that takes away from my writing time. Shame on you. Just do the thing. You’ll thank me later.

Probably.

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