Don’t write a detailed outline. Instead, write a list of short sentences. Scott Berkun calls these ‘sentence grenades, phrases loaded with opinions that generate shrapnel in your mind.’
When you read back your notes, you can expect ideas to explode in your mind. How these explode is entirely up to you – there is no right or wrong. You can abandon ideas or change the order or work with the opposite opinions. The only point is to withhold judgement on your writing until there are enough words on the page to work with.
If you find yourself struggling to get words down, you might try clustering, which is when you splatter words about what you need to write on a large piece of paper.
Your outline is a dialogue you have with yourself around the story, helping you to find the structure before you begin to write. It is a map that shows the many different routes you can take to get to the end. It is a guide, not a prison, as brief or detailed as you want or need it to be.
Each major plot-point is revealed in a scene. Write vividly. Show your story, don’t just tell it.
An advantage of writing an outline is that if you get stuck on one part, you can put that aside and move on to the next. And as you write your outline, you will find that you will see at a glance what has been missed and what needs to be written.
There are only four plot points you need to begin planning your story:
- The beginning.
- The end of Act One.
- The end of Act Two.
- The end.
Once you know these four moments, you can be confident you have all you need to know how to tell your story.
See the story as a journey and draw a map to focus on where the story is going. You will have a bird’s eye view and be able to see what elements matter and what lies outside the journey.
How many different routes can you take to the same ending?
A stack of 3×5 cards can be an invaluable part of the plotting process. If you are like me, you will use a stack of post-it notes. Or some writers just use a single sheet of paper. The choice is yours.
Now follow your instinct. Start with the end, then the beginning, then the middle, then the two sides of the middle, before and after, then work out the scenes that link these moments.
The outline is a guide, as brief or detailed as you like. Don’t be afraid to expand and revise the outline even after you’ve started writing. You may find that once you start writing, an action will prompt you to think of another event or action that needs to happen later in the story.
even if you are not sure, still include the scene in the outline. It is better to write it now and then check it later, than not to consider it at all.