Do you ever get stuck in your thinking? I do. In fact, I can be damn stubborn. I don’t like outlines, so I didn’t need them. Or at least, that is what I used to think. When I began writing fiction I believed I could have the story marinate in my head and after a short period of time I would just let if flow onto the page. After several failed attempts, I relented slightly and would jot down some events and character sketches. This tactic failed, because I wasn’t (and haven’t) finished anything. Recently, I gave in totally and began outlining extensively. I’ve taken advice from many prominent authors and editors, some we’ve interviewed on the show, and put them into an order that made sense to me. It is working for me and I wanted to share it with you. Let me be clear, this isn’t a magic pill and writing is still hard work, but at least I haven’t abandoned ship on my latest work. And I still don’t like outlines, but when I feel stuck I go to the outline and it helps me to get going again. I use a six step process. I’ve provided examples for the first three steps with my current WIP. I’m hoping this example will jumpstart your outlining if you’re feeling stuck. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below.
Step one: Single sentence
A Neuroscientist desperate to hold onto his wife’s love creates a new drug to recapture their passion, however the price for that creation is greater than he imagined.
Step two: Elevator pitch
Randall Schlotzer would like nothing more than to finish out his college career with a steady girlfriend and a 4.00 GPA. Two problems; he sucks at interactions with the opposite sex, and he discovers the head of the neurology department is creating a rogue drug to make people fall in love. Randall turns to his best friend Jerry for guidance, but instead receives a run-in with organized crime, a deadly threat to the girl he loves, and murder.
Step three: Rough story arc
Dr. Leeper has a strained relationship with his wife and she leaves him. Dr. Leeper is distressed about her decision and creates a drug that will make her fall in love with him again. Randall accidentally discovers Dr. Leeper’s plans and his best friend, Jerry, convinces him to steal the drug. Jerry sees the money making potential and starts to experiment with the drug’s effectiveness. The drug has bad side effects, which Jerry ignores. He strikes a deal with a friend to recreate the drug and decides to sell it to organized crime. After having second thoughts, Jerry can’t back out of the deal and Randall’s love becomes a pawn in a deadly game. The desire to have control of this drug leaves two people dead, a girlfriend in peril, and a organized crime boss poised for revenge. Randall needs to find the courage to do something and make a decision on his own or more people will die. It appears Jerry and Dr Leeper are saved, but where is Jennifer?
Step four: One page synopsis
I write as much as I know about the story and keep it to one page.
Step five: Bullet points of events that must happen
I make a list of situations or twists that must make it into the story. These are things that usually come to mind before I go to bed or when I’m in the shower.
Step six: Write out chapter beats
I organize the points into chapters and write beats. I keep my beats short. There has been much said about story beats and I recommend playing around with how much detail you include.
Bonus: I go more in depth with my characters and create a big back story. I believe it helps you to know how they will react to circumstances.
I hope this helps if you decide to outline. Happy writing!