Apparently what I do when I start a novel–or plan to start one–is very different from many of my peers in the writing community. Many of them use beat sheets or are big picture outline/summarizer’s, or full blown pantsers. I go all out and I make myself pour the story out of my head and into an outline before I am comfortable with what I’m writing. Sometimes, I veer from my outline, but I quickly make sure it goes with my endgame and if it doesn’t it gets cut.
As a science person AND a teacher, I am a very analytical thinker. This makes me do two things naturally: “begin with the end in mind” and think in bullets. All teachers are taught to prepare their lessons by beginning with the end in mind. That means you pick your objectives that you want to teach and then you design your assessment. Then fill in all the teaching bits. I applied that approach to my writing.
I tried to figure out where the book I wanted to plot would end. Sometimes the outline would work out and my original end, would stay the end. Other times, I have to make adjustments. Outlining to me is fun and gets me excited about what I’m about to write. Being ever so slightly ADD (read: VERY ADD — it’s taken me all day to type this because I’ve lost focus eleventy billion times), I like to get everything squared away before I get too deep in my writing.
If you aren’t used to outlining, try small scale first. Pick a scene from your novel that you know you could sit down and write this instant if you had to. I tend to outline by chapter and then fill in the deets later. For my last novel, I pictured the chapters based on locations. I knew what I wanted to start with and I knew where I wanted to end. From there, I bulleted the different locations my character would go through the course of the novel.
To give you an idea of what this looks like for me, I’m going to demonstrate how I would outline the opening sequence for the Disney movie, Frozen.
First, identify the locations. Just so you know, the entire chapter doesn’t have to take place in that one location. You can also identify chapters by some event that happens, but for the last three outline’s I’ve written, I’ve used location as my jumping off point.
Once I figured out the locations for the scenes, I went back and I added the main plot points. You will have more main plot points than this (usually). I have many within a chapter (usually 3 or 4, but sometimes more). Please keep in mind, this is a very simplistic example on my thought process.
Now that I know what I want my character to do in each of the chapters, I can break apart each of those scenes. Sometimes as my outline grows, I find I have to split what I thought would be one chapter, into more two and sometimes even three.
You can take it to another level and add more detail if you need to. It works for me, so maybe — if you want to give outlining a chance, you can try this method. It might work for you. Maybe give it some thought and get a good night’s sleep before trying it my way.
I work in this fashion until I reach the end. As I work, what I want each chapter to contain comes faster until I realize I’m finished. I’ve outlined three thrillers this way and from start to finish, the whole process only took a day.
Now all that’s left is to write it!