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Outlining – Step By Step

By Gail Gaymer Martin

Though I use a brief synopsis to set up my storyline, I sometimes outline parts such as a suspense novel. Once the character is developed, the beginning and ending of the book and the black moment, begin to build the plot, scene by scene no matter if it’s a novel, novella, and even a short story. An outline clarifies the story and offers direction to the end. My recent eBook, Better To See You, is a novella based on a fairytale. The fairytale plot provides a basic outline, but putting real people in the plot allowed many adventures and story twists.

Value of Outlining

• Provides a roadmap that helps envision a journey. Most vacations have a beginning point and a destination, but adventures happen along the way-interesting detours, car repairs, getting lost. Knowing the direction provides focus on the destination.

• It encourages brainstorming and helps developing characters and a setting (era, location, time of year). It compels the select of a genre: thriller, suspense, romance, paranormal, women’s fiction or comedy.

• It offers confidence when questions are answered and the direction is defined. It encourages brainstorming unique ideas, and triggers detours and surprises along the way.

• Knowing what’s ahead, allows foreshadowing events, problems, or clues for a hook.

• It organizes story threads to tie together by the end of the novel.

Problems With Outlining

• Can stifle creativity if too much detail is decided and stops thinking outside the box.

• Can affect the serendipity of detours to develop new complications and obstacles.

• Can cause boredom if all discoveries are made with no room for surprises.

• Can have too many details that bogs the plot. Use bare bones, then details and emotions.

Pre-Development Of An Outline By Answer Questions

• Who will be your main character? Type person? Background?

• What is the character’s motivation and goal?

• What is the characters most important possession, relationship or treasure in the opening?

• What problems arise between the character and the goal or solution to a problem?

• What is the setting? Historical/contemporary? Urban/rural? What is the genre?

• What are key events that move the characters to resolve problems and reach a goal?

Outlining Process

Break the story into chapters by writing the gist of what is accomplish in each chapter. Then break chapters into scenes with only enough detail to provide you with “the next step of the journey.” Know that multitude of opportunities for creativity still arise. If a story has two or three plots running at the same time, create a chapter outline for each plot. As scenes expand, use different colors to highlight the various plots in each chapters. Offer a good balance between the major plot and the side plots so the reader isn’t confused. Keep each plot line clear by opening with reference to the characters involved in that plot. Example: detective, criminal, kidnapped child’s family. And then have fun on the journey.

BettertoSeeYou2Multi-award-winning novelist, Gail Gaymer Martin is the author of Christian romance, romantic suspense, and women’s fiction with 55 novels and four million books in print. A co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers and on the Executive Board. Gail is a keynote speaker and presents workshops at conferences. Her website at www.gailgaymermartin.com.

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