Friday, April 27, 2012

Don't Call it Outlining

The term "outlining" can be a major turnoff to many writers faced with beginning a new project. Frequently, we still remember (with a sour stomach) the process teachers made us go through when we started a new chapter in our history books. Roman numerals, upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers, etc.

Putting down on paper exactly what is to appear in a book is an absolute necessity, whether a writer is planning a work of fiction or non-fiction. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways this can be done.

Traditional Outline. If a writer rather enjoys mapping out a plot using roman numerals, upper and lower case letters, numbers, etc. then she should use that method to outline her book.

Chapter Summaries. Using chapter summaries to structure projects is very easy. The writer simply sums up all the action or information which is to occur in each chapter. It's a great way to set up a guide, and brief summaries are very easy to follow when writing the first draft of a book.

Storyboards. Index cards used to storyboard a novel or a work of non-fiction can be very helpful in laying out scenes in fiction or presenting information in non-fiction. Whether the writer tacks the cards to a wall or lays them out on a table, they're easy to see all at once which makes them very handy in determining the order of the action or presentation of information in a book.

Scene Synopsis. One of the best ways to layout the plot of a novel is by using scene synopses. In writing a synopsis for a scene the author jots down the character goal, notes the point of view character, lists the people on stage, summarizes the action, and adds a new goal at the end of the scene. Scene synopses are especially useful to the author who wants to know his story as intricately as possible before writing the first draft.

Chronology. In fiction, a writer would use scene synopses to lay out a plot according to the sequence best suited to the story. In non-fiction, a writer determines the chronology of events in a way that best serves his thesis.

Fiction or non-fiction, a writer needs to have a guide for the layout of her book--an outline. Without properly structuring her book a writer risks being tasked with fixing many problems which could have been remedied before she began the first draft if only she'd have taken the time to outline her book. Having to fix problems after the first draft is completed is a lot more complicated than fixing them before it's begun.

No one ever said everything about writing is fun...


Fran Shaff
Fran's Web Page

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