Saturday, June 25, 2011

Creating a Simple Outline

Outlining is a very personal experience. Some people can fly by the seat of their pants and write wonderful pieces without any outlines whatsoever. Others spend days on end making a detailed outline with flow charts, character maps, and more before they even begin the writing process.

For me, an outline is a very basic idea of where I want the story to go, then I fill in the rest as I write. I use a model I discovered in The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy: Volume One. In a section on plot construction, Marko Fancovic says that the plot "has to be made out of basic elements." This is one place where KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) comes in handy. There are five integral parts to any plot (it may not seem like it, but if you really think about it, you'll notice that almost all fiction breaks down this way).

Part 1: Prelude In the prelude, you set up the story. Introduce the characters (both the protagonist and the antagonist) and the objective (what is the main goal of the story?). You also want to make sure people can relate to the good guy and dislike the bad guy. It's not good if, at the very beginning of the story, you accidentally reverse the roles.

Part 2: Act I This is the beginning of the protagonist's "quest". They begin their journey toward the goal that you set out in the prelude and have their first battle with the antagonist. It doesn't have to be a physical battle, but it's a confrontation of some sort. The protagonist should win this battle and keep the antagonist from possessing the goal.

Part 3: Act II In this act, you want to introduce another twist in which the antagonist gains the upper hand (no one wants to see a one-sided battle, do they?). This is where you will sow doubt into the reader's mind about who's going to really win in the end. This is where you really want to hook them to keep them reading through the night when they should be resting up for work the next day.

Part 4: Act III The climax, the final battle. This is where it all comes to a head. The antagonist has gone too far and now the protagonist is pissed. Someone is going to come out on top (usually the protagonist, though sometimes not). The third act is where the truly epic battles take place. It's where Frodo and Sam are standing over the lava pit in Mount Doom, where Harry is doing the unthinkable to protect those left at Hogwart's. This is the act that will bring tears and cheers.

Part 5: Resolution The resolution brings a sense of finality to the climactic ending. The goal set up in the prelude has been achieved (at least to an extent) and there's a clear winner (at least temporarily). Fallen friends are honored and the protagonist looks forward to a brighter future, at least until you toss them into the next plot in the sequel and throw their entire world into flux.

So how does this relate to an outline? I'll give you a sample. Normally, I would write it out by hand because I think it's visually easier to follow. Also, remember that each part will likely span several chapters.

Part I:
Protagonist-Spot, an adorable beagle who loves everyone
Primary goal- Spot loves his bone and would hate to lose it.
Antagonist- Burt, a nasty, mangy weasel; wants Spot's bone.

Part 2: 
Spot is in dog house, Burt attempts to steal bone, Spot bites him and chases him away.

Part 3: 
Spot falls asleep on porch, Burt sneaks in, steals bone.

Part 4:
Spot is distraught, uses his epic sniffer to hunt down the horrid weasel, takes back his bone and a chunk out of Burt.

Part 5: 
Spot lays on couch happily chewing his bone while Burt nurses his wounds and decides it's safer to eat ducks than dog bones.

So that's how I come up with my outlines. I was thinking of posting one, but I don't want to ruin Blood of the Dragon for those who haven't read it. It's all clear as mud now, right?

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