Outlining A Novel II
This article series was originally posted on Jeremy Menefee’s Freelance Writer & Editor blog. The first post was an overview of outlining, while this one starts to go in depth into the process itself.
I thought I’d explain a bit about the steps I covered so far in Part 1, just to illustrate the concept of what I do as I develop a story idea into a story outline.
First, I start with a (random, in this case) sentence I riffed on the fly:
A soldier tries to find peace.
OK, that’s not very interesting but it is a start. It begs many questions – who is the soldier? Why is he not at peace?
Shell shocked and weary, a soldier returns home only to find no more peace there than he did on the battlefield.
Actually, you could make a story about that, and many people have. But I have more questions – how does he seek his peace? Why?
“And you can put it within any genre you wanted, from Western to SciFi, from Cthulhu to steampunk.”
A weary and shell-shocked soldier returns home from war only to find that the peace he sought was an illusion, and if he hopes to find a new beginning rather than submit to his inner terror, he must seek it somewhere other than home.
Great! Long, but great. I’d revise it for a submission letter but it works for nailing down what I’d be writing if this wasn’t just an exercise. It has everything we need for our 1-sentence synopsis. Now let’s expand that into the four-sentence summary I mentioned before, each covering approx. 1/4 of the story.
A weary and shell-shocked soldier returns home from war only to find that the hope of peace at home that kept him alive in battle is but an illusion. As he slides deeper into the abyss caused by his inner demons and old, unresolved conflicts at home, he yearns for a new start that will let him put his troubled past behind him. His only hope for a new start is to disappear from his old life and journey to find a place that will let his shattered mind heal in peace. Along the way, chance meetings turn into unlikely friendships, but will these people help him begin anew, or will his inner nightmare poison his only hope at redemption?
Super duper. Not everyone’s cuppa tea, but for our illustration it does just fine. This would guide every single scene in the book I wrote from it. Coincidentally, it also makes a great foundation for the back blurb of the book. You could write a dozen books with that blurb – change the details that follow and you can get anything from this. Thriller? Sure. Nature of reality? Why not! New Adult angst? Gotcha covered. And you can put it within any genre you wanted, from Western to SciFi, from Cthulhu to steampunk.
Next time, we’ll show how this 4-sentence summary gets expanded into a 4-paragraph overview, which we will use in creating our actual outline, later.
Thank you, Jeremy! This is great information! Next time, he expands on what he talks about here and starts to expand on his main idea above.