Hello, and welcome back to another Teacher Voice! As I mentioned in my previous writing post, today I'm talking about the method of outlining that I have been using to write my scenes recently.
Now, unfortunately, I have not written anything for my book for a very long time. I feel a little bit stupid to be talking about this method of outlining because, clearly, it hasn't helped that much. But, that's a story for another time. (hint: the next Teacher Voice instalment *wink wink*)
Despite the fact that my goal for this month has majorly flopped, at the beginning of August I was actually doing really well and part of that is down to the outlining method I was using.
I was one of those people who really wanted to write an outline, but honestly all the jargon and huge word counts really put me off because I thought there was no way I'd ever be able to do something like that.
And, I haven't. I have, however, figured out something that worked well for a while, and then kind of didn't, but I thought I would let you all in on it, anyways!
So, I have attempted to write a proper outline before, but I always feel so completely overwhelmed by it, because people spend so much time and effort and brain cells on it, and honestly, I have very little of any of those to spare. Well, I have loads of time, but not anymore since school is starting back up *sobs*. Just kidding, I love school!
Anyways, that is not the point of this post.
My method is really basic, so if you're intimidated by big outlines or prefer a bit more of a loose guideline than a strict instruction manual, this might work for you.
So, what does it involve?
Well, first you're going to want to grab either your laptop or a notebook because there is some writing involved.
There's not an abhorrent amount, though, so don't worry.
(I do realise that it is ironic that I'm describing writing for an outline as abhorrent when the reason we're all here is because we want to be writers...)
This method mainly involves a lot of talking to yourself and coaxing your brain into giving you answers - so, normal writer stuff.
There are two parts to do this outline, so you may even want to grab your laptop and your notebook - I used both.
The first thing you want to do is write out a big list of all the scenes in your book.
You will need to have a fair grasp on what it is you're actually writing to be able to do this.
This may seem obvious to you, but outlining is not some magic wand you can wave and a ready plot and cool characters land in your lap. I didn't realise that I couldn't use my outline for brainstorming and I think that's the reason so many of them failed.
I mean, you can use it to brainstorm if you want, this is your process after all, don't let anyone tell you what you do is wrong, but whenever I tried to use it in this way everything just got really messy and hard to find.
So, you write a big list of all your scenes.
I did this in bullet points because all I wrote down was a few keywords to do with the scene, but if you prefer a lot of detail, you could write in paragraphs and maybe skip a line between each scene to make it easily readable.
I also did this in a notebook, not on my laptop, just because I find it easier to think when I'm not staring at a screen sometimes.
When you have all that done, make yourself a nice cup of tea and give yourself a well-earned pat on the back because outlining is not easy.
Getting all the *genius* ideas in your head down on paper and making sense of them is no mean feat!
Once you're finished inflating your ego, you are then ready to have it punctured all over again when it comes to delving into the dark depths of your scenes - kidding, we love writing, we do...
In case you didn't know, my goal for the month of August was to write a scene a day.
I failed, but not because of my outlining.
I actually enjoyed this outlining method because I felt very prepared going into my scenes, but not like I knew so much that I could never be surprised.
So, you pick a scene that you want to write.
This was where I got my laptop out because what came next was a lot of brain dumping onto the page and figuring out what I wanted to happen in that scene in a lot more detail.
This was what it looked like:
So, here I wrote the keywords that I had listed for this scene in my first outline, e.g. R's house, angry at each other, argument, Q starts crying - that sort of thing
- Then, I began my bullet point list underneath this and here I would write all the information I needed to write the scene.
- The first bullet point or two was used to write what needed to happen in the scene in order to advance the plot, e.g. R and Q fight causes tension, Q crying shows vulnerability and loneliness, or whatever, I'm literally coming up with this as I type!
- Next, I would view the scene from both, or however many major characters points of view. I would try to get inside their head and figure out what their goal for the scene was and how their actions would be dictated as a result, which is a lot harder than it sounds!, e.g. R is sick of being taken for granted so they get angry at Q because they don't want to be used again, Q is trying to make amends to no avail and feels so wretched they begin to cry - how are their actions dictated as a result? R is stand offish and cold, Q is guilty and apologetic.
- (I realise these examples don't make much sense, but I'm trying. I hope you can understand what I mean!)
- That's pretty much it. The only thing left that I would talk about in detail would be the setting, e.g. in R's bedroom which is above the kitchen where the parents are so they have to try and be quiet, bedroom is tiny and cluttered with pictures and books fluttered everywhere, window is foggy with rain so when Q spots a mysterious person standing outside they can't see their face - stuff like that.
- I'm not big on writing outlines just for the sake of having one, so I only really include anything that is pertinent to the scene. That may also include a snippet of dialogue that you want to include, or a clever piece of description, or even small pieces of research.
If you're still not sure whether this is the type of outline that would most suit you, take a look at what I think are the pros and cons to help you make up your mind!
It's a really simple outline, so it won't take you ages to write it.
I think the most amount of time any of the scene outlines took me was about twenty minutes, so it's really not bad.
It's also a fairly sparse outline.
You are only including the major details that are needed for the scene, so the opportunity to be surprised by turns your scene or characters take and the opportunity to delve deeper in to discover more about your story is still there because you don't know absolutely every minute detail.
I find that I can get inside the scene much quicker because I have to actively engage with it and see what the setting is like and how my characters are reacting, etc.
I'm coming up with all this stuff just before writing the scene, so I feel a lot more prepared than I would just reading through it.
It's like a mini warm up before you get going on the real thing.
This is really helpful, especially if your main struggle, like mine, is getting into the "writing mindset".
Because I'm coming up with everything and pretty much am writing the scene outline on the spot, it means I have another task to complete before I can start adding words to my manuscript.
If you're short on time this may not be ideal, but if you're just reading an outline it may take you more time to get into the character's head, so you may have to choose which to prioritise.
This one really depends on the way you work.
Also, because you have to write the outline before you can begin the scene, it gives you one more reason that you probably really do not need to procrastinate your writing.
The information and ideas you come up with might not be any good.
That may sound harsh, but if you're trying to come up with material to write a scene and you're really struggling, the stuff you write may not be the best it could be or you may only be scratching the surface of a huge well of ideas, but as soon as you've got enough to write the scene, you trot off, happily enough, with only surface level details.
Similarly, if you absolutely cannot get into the mind of your characters, your writing may not ring true or it could be even harder to get those elusive words down on the page.
I'm sure there are many more pros and cons, but I don't want to bombard you or add to any fears you may already have. Goodness knows writing can be difficult enough without someone discouraging you!
So, I hope me explaining my outlining method was helpful! I mention this briefly in my next Teacher Voice, but in October I will be trying out a new outlining method, so I may compare the two at the end of the month and see which one I prefer.
What do you think?
Will you be trying out this method? If you have any questions don't hesitate to contact me or leave a comment! I know all this writing stuff is so confusing, especially when you're as new at it as I am!!