When drafting an outline, there are a few ways to incorporate the spine, the heart, the soul, the joints, and all the excess bits mentioned previously. You can choose to create a large, lengthy, detailed outline. This may work better for some, just as some prefer to take the scenic route in life. Others might occasionally take the scenic route but prefer shortcuts if they’ve already experienced the scenery. For example, if you’re writing a novel for the first time like yours truly, the scenic route is wisest. I’ll cut down my extended outline into an abbreviated one for easier access as described below.
Before you set out on your journey, remember who you want to bring along. Consider the age, gender, race/ethnicity, and beliefs of the readers you want to reach. The best way to impact your readers is through punchy points-of-view. When it comes to POV, less is more. If you have too many telling the story, it may overwhelm your readers. Multiple POVs are helpful for intentional perspective shifts. When choosing a voice for the scene or your novel, consider the most interesting voice will probably be the character with the most to lose, even if they’re not your protagonist.
It’s important to consider POV prior to piecing your story together. If you need an example, consider The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. The narrator in this novel changes everything in how the story is told. In this case, the protagonist’s perspective would have limited the story’s gravitas and its unique take on Holocaust literature.
Start to Finish
After selecting your POV, introduce your protagonist. Do this in a normal setting for the character so your audience understands the regular aspects him/her. Include action and an inciting event which provide the protagonist with a characteristic moment. The inciting event will transition into the middle of the story while providing a space for the reader to empathize with the protagonist, witness his/her reaction, and understand the goal.
Once you’ve exposed your reader to you protagonist, now is your time to wreak havoc in his/her world. Create new goals for the main character as their old ones may now be unattainable. Here, your protagonist may fall to pieces out of sheer lack of control. How manipulative you choose to be is entirely up to you. If your story falls into a man versus author conflict, I say go for it!
When you’ve successfully upended your protagonist’s world, give him/her control. Provide relationships, resources, and other opportunities for them to plan and accomplish their goals. Let them work towards overcoming the antagonist. Stretch the protagonist to a breaking point until he/she understands their self anew. This new knowledge of self should be key in achieving the main goal and defeating the antagonist.
Keys & Legends
Don’t be afraid to use humor in your story. Even the darkest ones need a bit of comic relief. See The Book Thief again for references. Action cements every motivation, relationship, and goal of any characters in your novel. Don’t be afraid to make your characters act! When drafting scenes, make sure they fall into one another. Just as if you were planning a trip somewhere, your stops along the way naturally follow. For example, if you go from Texas to New York, you won’t be making any pit stops in California. Your scenes should work in the same logical progression. If they don’t, fix it. If your story does seem to be all over the map, begin with the end in mind. Reverse outlining works wonders in writing and editing.
Once you’ve pieced together this entire scenic route, you don’t have to wander that path again, unless you so desire. Instead, you can now hack and slash your extended outline into an abbreviated one.
The perks of this shortcut include removal of rambling. One sentence summaries help with brevity, not that you have to stick to just one. Information is more easily accessible for a few reasons. You don’t have to sift through all of the clunky details, and you can search for them on a computer. This is assuming you bothered to transcribe a handwritten, extended outline.
When organizing your abbreviated outline, cut off the fatty bits. Combine, strengthen, and delete weak or excess scenes. When strengthening scenes, consider pacing. Make sure shorter sentences occur in tense scenes, and long sentences occur in leisurely ones. This is also a great opportunity to chunk your story into chapters. You can more easily find the natural, dramatic scene breaks to transition. If you’re having difficulty keeping the pages turning, cliffhangers and unanswered questions can be inserted here.