Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writing Outlines

Here are couple neat tips I've learned from skimming Donald Maas's Writing the Breakout Novel workbook about...

Writing Outlines:

  • Try writing the outline BEFORE the story is complete.
    • (I've actually gone back into a finished manuscript and changed it while constructing an outline because I learned what one of the conflicts were and I suddenly knew which parts of the story I need to strengthen. **And just because you write an outline before a story's finished, doesn't mean you have to follow it.  You can always change it once the story is complete** Writing outlines before finishing the book is supposed to help give you direction in what you want your story to work toward.)

  •  Make it a creative act.
    • (If you try to be all professional and "just give the facts, ma'am," you're going to get bored writing it, which means your readers will get bored reading it. Try to give it the voice and flair and mood you gave your story.)

  • Attempt to include these three main parts in your outline.
    • Fundamentals (who, what, when, where plus what the protagonist wants, why they want it, and what's keeping them from getting it)
    • Highlights (instead of doing a chapter-by-chapter spiel of what happens, only highlight the biggest moments in the story of what the protagonist does to get what she/her wants, detail the most important factors that get in his/her way, mention his/her biggest inner conflicts, and maybe toss in one or two very small but impacting moments of dialogue.)
    • Resolution (Mention what changes in the story and tell how the protagonist did or didn't reach his/her goals.)

I've concluded there are three main types of outlines you need to come up with when/before/after writing your story. You need a: 

    • Synopsis (two to ten pages, depending on submission guidelines of the place you're querying)

    • Blurb (around 150 words. This can be a paragraph in the query letter you send or maybe it's the back cover blurb for your book, sometimes both)

    • Tag Line (approximately ten to fifteen words long. A cool tip in the writing-help book Save the Cat by Blake Snyder is "make it ironic" -- ie. Twilight "So the lion fell in love with the lamb")

And that's just a couple tips I've learned lately. Good luck on your outlines!

(originally posted 5/18/12 on Linda Kage's Blog Page)


January Bain said...

Great advice, Linda, saving this blog to Word. Thanks!

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Good point about giving it flair and voice. If it gets too flowery you can trim.

Anonymous said...

Before I put pen to paper, I have recorded the tag line. Why? Cause its drives the suspense tree and theme chapter by chapter.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2011)

TK Toppin said...

Always great advice!