If you've been following along with the writing 101 lessons, it's time to write your outline. You will only have 2 more steps before writing your story, but both can only be done once you write your outline. You won't need your summary to write, but you will need your outline, character bios, and stat-sheets. You're almost home and ready to write.



If your office/writing area looks a bit like this, you're on the right track    Credit



  
 

Why use an outline? As we've covered an outline is best for long-form short stories, novellas, and novels, and it about 0.1% as long. It's an extremely detailed summation of events, in much the same style as Cliff's Notes summarizes whole passages in its guides. Whereas the summary hit mainly on major characters, plot points, and some external conflict and character arcs, the outline will get it all.

Your outline will have all major characters, all secondary characters, every scene, and the point of dialogue summarized. It will have every step of the protagonist and antagonist's arc journey, and it will note each and every last conflict, external or internal. The reason for all this is that your outline will be your bible: it should always be an open document right next to your story, or printed out and at hand.

This is the tool that will keep your tone even, the pacing regulated, and prevent any writer's block "derp" moments. Set aside a large chunk of time to write your outline. For a 300 page novel you'll have a 30 page outline, and it will be intense.



Yes, even into a world of creative writing, a little math must fall    Credit


  
 

First open Microsoft Word/open office equivalent on your PC (if you have a Mac go buy a PC...real writers use PCs or typewriters) and make sure it is set as thus:

Font: Times New Roman
Font Size: 11pt
Paragraphs: Single spaced, first line of new paragraph 0.5" indent, 0" margins, 0pt before/after, un-click widow/orphan control, align left

Now you have 30 pages to fill up, and you'll need it. Where do we start? Pull out your summary. It most likely began before the start of the story. Wherever it began, your outline begins as well. The simplest way to explain how to write an outline is with an example. What follows is a scene from a story (the edited/expanded James the Butler), how the scene is described in the summary, and how the scene is described in an outline.

First, the specific scene from the story:

     I crossed the lobby blind to the shining opulence that so captivated tourists and suburbanites, lost to my world. Out on the street I gave my ticket to the valet and lit a cigarette. Filthy habit I knew but it helped me to de-stress and frankly I wanted the taste of Alejandro out of my mouth. Reason couldn’t explain it, but I felt guilty as if I’d betrayed…someone.

     “Audrina?”

     I jumped noticeably and whirled. It was not the demon I’d imagined, but Tom Goddard, thin and serious, his dark eyes looking huge behind his glasses. In the wind of the day he’d closed his dark trench coat tightly and his dark hair threatened to fall loose of styled perfection, making him look like a tragic hero of a forgotten era.

     “Tom, I was just visiting Alejandro, finalizing plans for-”

     “Save it.” I gulped at his serious tone. His voice was deep as usual, but terse, which was unlike him. “Alejandro is not a serious man. His dalliances are not to be trusted.”

     Dalliances? Who talked like that? “I…I don’t know what you mean.”

     Grabbing my arm lightly he pulled me into the corner of the doors, out of the light flow of pedestrian traffic. “God knows you live like a nun and while I applaud you finally getting out there, this is not the right path.”

     “Why not?” My temper flared past the need to hide what I’d just done. “I would think the only safe choice is someone beyond grandfather someone, someone who will be returning to his country a whole continent away in just a week!”

     “You don’t know what he’s involved in!”

     “Funny, isn’t it? If gramps dies before I can breed, or before I have son old enough, I’ll have to run his godforsaken company without any clue of what’s going on!”

     Anger filled out his face and made  his gentle prettiness into something close to handsome. “Then marry me. You can fuck whoever you like as long as I get the same. I know the company, I’ll run it. We can find doctors, a surrogate,, make his damn heir without getting our hands dirty.”

     We’d been dancing around this for years, a marriage of convenience, but I’d always been under the impression that as little as I wanted it, he wanted it less. What he said made sense in that mercenary way all these businessmen seemed to have about them, but I was a little fish in a big pond, doing my best not to draw notice from the sharks.

     “What’s in Phoenix, Tom?”

     Rage flashed in his eyes, truly scary for a moment. “Nothing you should be concerned with.  Now stay away from Alejandro!”

     I jerked away and stalked inside, pushing aside the doorman and a tourist, and I just watched him go. At least for all my troubles I had reason to believe there was something he feared in Arizona. Though it could have been just petty jealousy over Alejandro, something told me the Bolivian hadn't been wrong about Arizona. And I knew I had to find out just what it was.

 


Ok, now the passage as described in the 4 page summary:

She runs into Tom Goddard who is jealous of her and refuses to answer why Alejandro wants her to go to Phoenix. She demands to know why Tom won’t answer them and he rudely leaves her, citing jealousy over Alejandro. She decides to go to Phoenix.

Now, at last, how it appears in an outline:

Audrina leaves Alejandro's room heading for the lobby, feeling conflicted over having sex with him as if she's betraying someone. She lights up a cigarette and runs into Tom and it's clear he's there to have sex with Alejandro, realizes she just did, and he gets jealous. 

He offers her a marriage of convenience and she refuses to answer him, asking about Phoenix. His reaction is strong, aiding her suspicion some dirty secret of her grandfather's is there, and refuses to answer, but makes it hard for her to decide if she is onto something, or he is just angry out of jealousy. Still she decides she must get to Phoenix and find out.




If you haven't read James the Butler, that passage probably makes as much sense as this picture


  
 
 

You can see the difference, how much more detailed the outline is. Let's look at it again:
 
Audrina leaves Alejandro's room heading for the lobby, feeling conflicted over having sex with him as if she's betraying someone. She lights up a cigarette and runs into Tom and it's clear he's there to have sex with Alejandro, realizes she just did, and Tom gets jealous

He offers her a marriage of convenience and she refuses to answer him, asking about Phoenix. His reaction is strong, aiding her suspicion some dirty secret of her grandfather's is there, and refuses to answer, but makes it hard for her to decide if she is onto something, or he is just angry out of jealousy. Still she decides she must get to Phoenix and find out.
 


Now the summary only had the plot point of deciding to travel to Phoenix, the outline also has a character arc development for Audrina (she is having an affair with someone and conflicted over her feelings for him). Both have an external conflict (Tom's jealousy will later dominate his relationship with Audrina) but the outline also has an internal conflict (Audrina is so disconnected from Tom that she interprets his strong emotion as hiding the truth).

To review, the main differences between an outline and a summary are:

  • A summary is about 0.01% of the overall length of the story; an outline is 0.1% (for a 300 page story a summary is 3 pages, an outline is 30)
  • A summary notes plot points and external conflict; an outline notes this as well but also includes character arc developments and internal conflict
  • A summary if a very brief notation focused on action; an outline includes notes on dialogue and small actions/scene setters  

So in short you include only general details in a summary, and more specifics in an outline. Make sure they both end and begin at the same place, which is not always the start and ending of the story. Additionally only major secondary characters will appear in the summary, all secondaries will appear in the outline.




Considering these are just the protagonists, imagine writing the outline with all the secondaries. Now you know why George RR Martin takes 5+ years to write a new book in this series


  

It will take time to write your outline, and indeed it should. You will want to have to change as little in as possible when writing, instead when you write the story closely follow the summary. Once you write your outline double check your summary and make any changes you might need. Once that's done, put the summary away, all you need is your outline now. 

It's very, very, VERY important you note all internal and external conflicts in your outline. Remember this can be a tool to fix pacing, lengthen, or shorten your piece as needed. Go ahead and mark them, you may use this later. Note the character arc developments and once you're done, line them up to the hero journey to make sure they are correct. You should have picked 3, 4, 6, 9, or 12 (trust me, make it 9 or 12 ONLY for good writing) and should see all 9 or 12 for your protagonist and antagonist. Remember the antagonist's comes before the start of the story, which is why your outline will almost always start before the story does.

The last thing to do before spell checking/editing for grammar your outline is to note any research points. Does the plot call for your hero to know how to spelunk but you have no clue? Mark it. We'll go over that soon, but before that we will get to conflict notations. If you're not clear on defining internal and external conflict, next lesson we tackle it. Until then, happy writing!