Updated: Apr 18, 2019
Hello fellow readers and writers!
The Writers Life is a series I'm going to be trying out on this blog, where I give you all my personal methods to "the writing process". I've been in the new writer position like most of you, where I had no idea where to start in regards to structure, style and organization. My methods are far from perfect, but hopefully they will provide you with a starting point to guide you as you develop your own style of writing.
As the first in this series, we're going to discuss outlining. This is what should come after you've decided on the basic idea and premise you have for your novel or story.
It took me from beginning to finishing The Fields by my House to figure out my personal perfect outline structure. Eventually I found it, and there are now 12 outlines for 12 different books in my Google Drive waiting to be written. Below is a screenshot of the outline structure I'm currently using for my next novel project (which shall remain nameless for now):
This is a very simple yet useful outline structure that has worked for me time and again, as I've sat down to brainstorm different story ideas. It's a basic guide for you to use in your own fashion. Below I've written out a few rules I've ended up following, as they seem to work best for myself:
- If I'm basing my book during a specific event (ex. WW2) or a specific conflict (ex. love triangle), I try to come up with the working title first off. In doing so I've been able to base the plot around what the title hints at. For example, I came up with the title The Fields by my House first. I determined the plot details from what I as a reader would suspect the book to be about if I saw it in a store. Once I had a good title, the small town setting and Edwardian time period came afterwards. This method may not work for everyone or for every story, but it's one to test out. You'll be surprised what may come from it.
- I find that determining the setting first hand makes developing the characters easier, once I have general knowledge of their background. Because The Fields by my House was set in a Canadian farming community in 1903, I knew right off that such a lifestyle would have a great impact on Mabel's personality. I chose to have farm life impact her in a positive way, which ended up being the driving force to the overall story-line. You may be surprised how important the location of a book can be to the characters overall; They would be impacted by local cultures, values, attitudes, and the overall lifestyle of their community.
- I personally have found the premise and story-line of a novel comes after I've developed the personality of the main characters. Many writers determine the premise first hand and work their characters in later on. However, it's not as easy as you may think to make your character do something they don't want to do, or act in a manner not related to their personality. You don't want your characters to act off of your plot, you want your plot to progress off of the characters and the choices they make. More often than not our characters get away from us, and make decisions we didn't realize they would when we began writing. At one point our characters become people, and if you force their personality's to fit into a set-in-stone outline, your story will come off as stiff and underdeveloped. When I began writing The Fields by my House, I knew exactly how I wanted it to end and the events that would occur to make the outcome. But as I progressed in writing the story, I realized Mabel's character had developed to a point where my pre-determined ending wouldn't fit the story. And once you've developed your character, it's not terribly easy to change them.
I hope this helped some of you with your outlining struggles. The next article will focus on the second step: expanding your outline into a first draft.
Let me know in the comments if you agree with some of my methods, and what you have found works best for you!