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Tips on creating novel outlines?

Morkonan;1774049 said:
theoddone;1773373 said:
I'm starting my third novel and, this time, unlike the other times, I want to have an outline to reflect upon. I won't let the outline limit my creativity, but I think it's nice to have something to keep me on track, so I ensure I keep moving from point A to B and so on, without missing important details. Does anyone have tips or sample outlines, maybe blank ones...? Just, something to get me started? Thanks!

OK. Let's start with something simple. The most important thing you're looking for is for some way to structure your ideas into something meaningful that can help you keep track of story development, right? Right! (Well, it is, whether or not you know it is, since I'm the one composing this post and you're not! ;) )

A Brief Discussion of Classic Three Act Structure: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-act_structure

Are you familiar with this sort of structure? It's a basic form that's widely used in writing. It's not comprehensive, by itself. But, it gives one a good sense of how a story, as a whole, can be told. (After checking it over, I advise you to ignore Mr. Wellman's well-meaning line graph thingie. It's too ambiguous. Here's something better: Simple plot diagram based on "action" which could also be considered to be marked by moments of "drama", "suspense", "whatever" - http://education-portal.com/academy/lesson/what-is-a-plot-diagram-definition-examples-quiz.html Substitute this for Wellman's plotline in the wiki.)

These are the basics you should be armed with in order to take the "next step" if you want to generate some helpful resource materials. Take a moment to look these over, become passingly familiar with them, and to apply them to your current plot. Can you place important bits of your plot(s), those that comprise the moments that mark rising and falling action, drama, or whatever, and can you stick them somewhere appropriate in a plotline diagram? Good! (If not, keep doing it until you can. :) )

OK, now that you have a general idea of the important stuffs that are going to happen and where they would fit in on some sort of plotline, you need to make it "useful." Plot diagrams do nothing and go nowhere, by themselves. To be truly useful, you have to figure out how you're going to execute your ideas. There are a number of ways to prepare yourself to do that. I'm going to sort of scoot around, pointing and babbling at stuff, like a antiquer at a King Tut's garage sale. Just hang on a bit and you'll be fine.

Chapter Breaks: http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/writing-a-novel-chapter-breaks

Glance over this. This is the sort of thing you'll be planning out. You may not do this at first. You might, as the article mentions, be more naturally suited towards just writing everything down and then going back and separating it all out. But, considering it while planning your story will help you get in the right frame of mind, whether or not you decide to plan out your chapters in advance or not. In traditional writing, your story is going to be pieced together like a stack of Legos. Each brick of a chapter will snap into another, somewhere, in order to complete your story. The linear nature of most novels, likely much like your own, lends itself towards this sort of approach - You will be writing chapters in the order that events occur in your story. Those chapters, just like the events they describe, can be placed on any number of different sorts of graphs, like the above "Plot Line." Go back and take a look at that plotline in the wiki. Can you think of other stories, aside from your own, that have chapters that could be correctly placed on a point on that plotline? Probably so. If not, blame me - I haven't gotten a lot of sleep lately.

Character Development: A description of "Character Arc" - http://creativetips4writers.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/character-arc/

OK, check out that page. I want you to ignore most of the "specifics" contained there. Look, there's a lot of crap on the Internet and while that page isn't complete "crap", it's not exactly what I had in mind. But, it's the best I can do on such short notice. Everything else I Googled up for illustrations is full of commentary by people who just got through reading Vogler... What you need to take away from this piece is that your character can change, internally, and the moments in the story that mark that happen in much the same way and with similar effect as your plot points on a plotline. Your character will be confronted, challenged, fail, succeed, be illuminated or remain ignorant, all communicated at specific points in your story. That's not to say that you must have a Round character and you don't have to have a Character Driven story for this to happen. (Terms we'll talk about later.) But, what it does mean is that if your character changes internally, if their values change, if they discover inner strengths or weaknesses, that these things occur during and are communicated by specific events within your story. Because characters are often important to Readers, for some reason, you should have a good handle on where stuff like this would occur in your story. Find those points in your story and draw a pretty little arc, or a radically nutty one, and note spots where things significant to your character's internal states happen. (Also, since you're obviously a bright person, you've already figured out that if you hold up your Character Arc with your story's Plotline, many important points for both are going to line up with each other. :) )

Using a Chapter Framework: http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-organized-writer-using-chapter.html (IF you are planning out your chapters in advance. If not, ignore this bit.)

This is a pretty easy way to organize the basic outline of your story. Read it over. It's simple, really - Each chapter gets a note, since everything you write is only what's worth writing in your story, right? So, you make a little note to yourself about what's going to happen in that chapter. This is where you start to refer to things like your Plotline and Character Arc. This is when some people start piling up "Sticky Notes" of cool ideas or significant events and begin organizing them by chapter. :)

Organizing Your Ideas In Relation To Story Requirements and the Writerly Thunking Up of Wise Things: http://united.k12.il.us/jeyler/personal/tqepage.html

OK, ignore all the text. :) Well, don't completely ignore it. Instead, I want you to do a bit of intuitive reasoning, here. I'm going to take the methods these teachers used to organize their project and show you how this same approach can be used by you to organize yours. :) Glance over stuff on this page and note how different sorts of concepts in this "teachery" sort of thing have been organized. Note how "Relationships" has been organized into a visual representation of Sets, each with lines connecting it to other Sets, in order to describe the presence of relationships. Note how a Fishbone diagram has been used to organize Cause and Effect and, moreover, how such a diagram actually serves as a forensic tool! It helps them determine what sort of things may have caused an effect! Note how someone has compared relationships directly with Driving Forces and Restraining Forces.

You can use these sorts of ideas in order to organize your own!

For instance, take out a piece of paper and draw some circles that represent your main characters. Title this "Relationships." Now, draw lines between those that interact with each other. It doesn't matter what those interactions are. It just matters whether or not they ever actually interact with each other. Are there any that don't interact much with anyone? If so, do you really need that character? :) Draw out another diagram in a similar fashion, but title it "Main Plot" and put a big circle in the middle. Now, how many characters interact with that plot in some way? Draw more lines... OK, now draw lines between characters to represent characters that interact with others in order to achieve or prevent the achievement of some goal, any goal, within the main plot. When you're done, how many characters don't have any lines at all? Do you really need those characters? Or, do you need to do some work on them? If some characters only have a few lines, are those lines "strong?" For instance, a Father might die early in the story, but his influence on the protagonist is profound and is reflected in that protagonist's actions, thoughts, and feelings during the story. That character may have only one line in that diagram, but it's profoundly important to the story, so he stays in!

Let's take a look at how they organized "Driving and Restraining Forces." Mmmm... juicy. Sounds all literary-like, doesn't it? Instead of listing problems that teachers encounter, list any points of conflict in your story. What is a goal in your story? It doesn't have to be of major significance, but if it is a point of contention there is going to be some sort of opposing force or obstacle that must be overcome in order to cause "conflict", right? So, list them. List your major "conflict" points in your story by writing down the "Goal" and the "Obstacle", side by side. Additionally, for our purposes, I want you to include a third column - Resolution. After each set of major points has been outlined in this fashion, go back and list the resolution of each one. Are all your conflicts resolved by the end of the story? If not, why? Does it serve a good purpose for them NOT to be resolved? Does it get the Reader's mind racing in a good way? Or, will it disappoint the Reader? Or, did you just forget about trying to figure out a path to resolution for that particular Conflict? :) If the latter, then this sort of tool will help you remember to resolve such issues before the Reader gets to your Appendices...

Lastly, let's take a look at the scary notion of "Fishbone Diagrams." Look, I know it's terrifying to behold, but these sorts of diagrams are not all that complicated. They work on a simple notion - Everything in the World has caused the ills you are about to experience and they must be organized on a fishbone diagram! Well... kinda. In short, what a fishbone diagram does is to help you keep track and make sense of all the factors that come to bear on a certain thing in your story. For instance, if a character is horribly murdered, what are all the factors worth putting in a story about things that contributed to or caused that murder? List them in categories that make sense for your plot! For instance, draw out a simple horizontal line. Put a vertical one through it. That vertical line separates the Causes from the Effect in the above diagram. On one side, your going to organize "Causes" for something and you're going to draw out another line from the horizontal one, just so you can keep things organized.

Let's take one of those lines in the above fishbone diagram and apply it directly to a literary purpose. We'll use the one titled "System."

For this, we're going to assume we're writing a novel that has a heavy "political intrigue" component that focuses on the incompetent administration of "The King's Exchequer." We'll use the "System" bone to demonstrate this. So, we scratch out their "System" label and write in "The King's Exchequer." This is the semi-corrupt organization that had a hand in causing the "Great Dragon War" which we're writing about in our fictional Fantasy story. So, how do they contribute to this "Main Plot Piece" of the Great Dragon War? How are they a "Cause" for that "Effect." Well, for starters, like on that fishbone diagram, the "Administrator", (Grand Exchequer Robert) fails to give notice to the King's Guard, who ride very dangerous dragons, that the gold that pays for the dragon's food will not be available during the Month of Rising Suns. Further, this was caused by a fault in this branch of King's Offices with the Kings Records Department of the Grand Exchequer, which caused accounting errors. Even worse, the Official Court Messenger, who was supposed to tell the King's Guard this important information, was killed by a rabid wombley as he rode off to carry this important message! So, what happened during the "Great Dragon War?" Why, the dragons got hungry and ate the King's Guard! Not much of a war, really...

Other things contributed to the "Great Dragon War" in our fictional story. But, I leave you to draw their bones and branch them out with smaller bones, adding notes to each to give them flesh and substance. Use multiple Fishbone Diagrams, if necessary, one for each really important part/event in your story. If one bone has little or no branches, it must be a mightily important one for that particular plot-point indeed, right? Or, maybe it really doesn't matter very much at all or isn't complex? If it's not as complex as you'd like it, add more branches! If it's too complex and takes up the whole darn skeleton, your story might be focusing too much on only one aspect and could use some "fleshing out" in order to give it some depth.


These methods are not written in stone.
You do not have to use any of these approaches to organizing your ideas. How you organize your own thoughts are, of course, your own business. What I am trying to do, more than handing you some sort of "system", is to show you that a variety of methods can be used to organize your ideas and that some are surprisingly flexible, able to be applied in a variety of situations. You can use a Fishbone Diagram, just like those teachers did, for outlining and making sense of important parts of your story. Or, you can just use something simple, listing out and contrasting Goals and Obstacles as well as their Resolutions in an easy table form. You can even just insert some points on a Plotline or go so far as to decide where your Chapters fall and even make notes about what those Chapters contain or what you want to accomplish in each before moving on. You can match up your Character Arc with your Plotline and see where important events are actually... important for both the Character and Story. It's all up to you, though.

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