Friday, June 20, 2008

Making Outlines

A helpful way to organize your story, once it's written, and decide if a scene is working or going nowhere, is to make an outline of chapter, page numbers, scene, POV, and major plot points. For example (yes, a silly example, but you'll get the point):

CHAPTER ONE, 20 pages

Scene 1 - Tarzan's POV
* Introduce Tarzan and his internal conflict
* Establish setting (jungle)
* We learn that Tarzan likes bananas

Scene 2 - Jane's POV
* Introduce Jane and her major external conflict with Tarzan
* Hint at her internal conflict
* We learn that Jane's father runs an anti-banana regime aimed at taking over the world and allowing people to eat only oranges

And so on, all the way to The End. Only the important plot points may be added to your outline. We don't need fine details--just what drives most of the action, and what your reader must know in order to keep reading cohesively. Fine details are just polish (character descriptions that aren't crucial to the plot, minor characters, etc). You want to extract the nuts and bolts and bullet-point them in your scenes.

This will help you discover whether your scene really has a purpose driving it forward, or whether it's just filler. If your reader doesn't learn any important points or clues about character or story in the scene, it may not be needed. If those important points could be learned in another scene without overloading it, you might be able to move them to that other scene and thus improve your pacing. You'll realize whether a new setting is even necessary (Think like a movie producer - do you want to have to pay out the dough to build that extraneous locker room set, or can this dialogue take place on the football field you already have available? Don't just intro a setting because it's "cool" - make sure it has purpose.). You'll also notice if you've been in one character's POV too long, and your reader might be missing the full range of story emotion from your other major characters.

Outlining your story greatly improves your speed when it comes time to revise. You'll notice it's easier to move plot points seamlessly from one place to another, and it will be easier to edit out (or sometimes add or flesh out) scenes when necessary. I strongly suggest outlining your story before submitting to an editor. That way, when (oh, joy!) he or she requests revisions, you can get them ready that much faster.

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