Day 20: Outlining
Now that we have explored plotting and character arcs in some detail, it is time to embark on the hard but gratifying work of outlining if you haven’t already done so.
To accomplish this task, spread before you all the work you have done with the plot structure and arcs. Have you selected one structure that will undergird your story? While we explored many possibilities, I suggest restricting your mapping efforts to just one approach. Using your selected plot structure as your roadmap, identify and name the scenes where each of the pivotal structural moments occurs.
Are you comfortable with the plot points that you’ve identified? Does the story seem to flow? Are the pivotal moments big enough? They should be the stand-out moments in the story. Do they occur at the right time in the story? Weiland’s approach, for example, had percentages to indicate roughly where in the story an event should fall. If you attach percentages to your pivotal points do they make sense when you think in terms of the larger ebb and flow of the story?
Now, start to fill in what happens between your pivotal moments. Chronological order might be a comfortable way to proceed, or you might find it helpful to work backward. Or perhaps start with the non-pivotal moments that hold a lot of energy for you. Start to plug those in between your major plot points.
Here’s one example of the beginning of an outline:
I recommend that you do this in a spreadsheet. This is a great way to track subplots and/or multiple Points of View. The first column should represent the way that events will unfold in the story from the reader’s perspective. This is the version of the plot that you will map to the various structural elements (e.g. “inciting incident,” “midpoint,” etc.) On a separate spreadsheet, create a column for each POV character and/or subplot. Populate the scenes in these columns as they would happen in chronological order. You can color code scenes that happen in flashback for ease of identification. Also, indicate any linking scenes that happen across one or more plots or POVs.
Here’s an example of the same outline broken down by POV (I have chosen to color code by POV in this example):
You’ll note here that when events happen at the same time but from different perspectives, they appear in the same row to illustrate the relationship.
Proceed in this fashion until you have all of your scenes mapped out. The total number of scenes that you create will depend on several factors, including your total planned word count and how long your scenes tend to be. My scenes range anywhere from 500 to 2,000 words, but I find 1,000 to be a convenient and relatively accurate estimate to work with.
The next big question to wrestle with: are you going to write your whole story in 50,000 words? It would make a very short novel, more of a novella really. It might make sense to plan your novel for a longer word count and acknowledge that when you hit your word count goal come November 30th, your story won’t yet be finished. It took me 74,000 words to complete my first draft last year.
So, depending on your total planned word count, you might need anywhere from 50 to 100 scenes. Go ahead and plan them all out now. Once you’ve got your outline defined in a spreadsheet, I recommend you enter your scene names into Scrivener. That would look something like this:
Developing an outline is a big task. Out of all the prep activities that we are walking through in October, I believe this is one of those that is most likely to yield high results for you. Take a few days to go through this process… Take solace, November is still eleven days away!
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Table of contents for other articles in the series.
Be sure to also check out the 5 Epic Clues to NaNoWriMo Success webinar.