Note from Steam Powered Dreams: If you haven’t been keeping up, copywriter, editor, and fiction writer Jeremy Menefee has been kind enough to share some of his information with us! First up is his series on Outlining, so if you haven’t caught the first two posts, you can find them here: Outlining a Novel I and Outlining a Novel II.
In previous posts I discussed the first stage of writing an outline in part 1, then wrote an example of part of that process in action in part 2. Keep in mind that I spent about 15 minutes on it, because it is only an example. If this were for an actual book I intended to write, I’d spend a lot more time on it. Anyway, the 4-sentence summary that came out of that was:
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?
In this post I’ll show one of many possible examples of how to take that paragraph and expand it into four paragraphs, one for each sentence. This is for the author’s use, not necessarily to show to agents or the readers – it’s a writing tool. Interestingly, any one of these sentences could be expanded with the same process we’ve used already to make a book, or the last three could be books in a trilogy.
Earth and the Solar System
By GoodKingSword on Pixabay
I wouldn’t make a trilogy starting with the first sentence because it would shift genres completely. Better to wrap that into the background of the next three sentences, if this were written as a trilogy. Anyway…
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.
- Fresh out of high school, John Sanders joined the UEDF (United Earth Defense Force), a hastily-scrambled force of men and women determined to defend Earth and her colonies from the Ithid invasion. To escape the drudgery of life in the New Chicago Ark, he volunteered to undergo “bioborg” enhancements, genetic manipulation and modified organs, and was one of the few accepted by the program. As a supersoldier, John fought for twenty years in some of the most desperate fighting of the war. When the Ithid were finally driven off during the last battle for Europa, John returned home weary and shell-shocked, his mind nearly shattered by the horrors of what he’d seen. Fond memories of home may have kept hope alive during the bitter war, but when John returned to Earth he found his community torn apart by drugs, gangs and a paramilitary police force that wrote its own rules. As he struggled to find his place within this new war, the very people he fought to protect turned on him amidst racism and mistrust for the so-called super-soldiers.
” This is for the author’s use, not necessarily to show to agents or the readers – it’s a writing tool.”
As mentioned above, that paragraph will be wrapped into the other three as flashbacks, dialog, etc., because it doesn’t really fit the genre of the rest of the book.
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.
- Worse yet, his own mother refused even to speak to John, believing him to be an unholy monster without a conscience, a sentiment shared by his best friend. Their refusal was the final blow to a battered psyche, and John’s sleep grew tormented by bloody and horrific nightmares. The nightmare didn’t end when he woke up each time as he discovered his dreams had become reality. First the police, then his few remaining friends, and finally his own family were convinced John was behind the terrible acts of violence and destruction, and it was just possible they were right. Moreover, he notices strange people seem to follow him, and he grows paranoid. The super-soldier discovers that the war at home is as difficult and dangerous as any battle against the Ithid.
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.
- When John is attacked by a militia group as corrupt police stand by and do nothing, he barely escapes with his life. He finds refuge with a mysterious stranger who approaches him with an offer to help, but before the stranger can explain his offer the “safehouse” is attacked by black-clad men, and the two must rely on each other to escape the attack. They flee with nothing but what they could carry and a few weapons, but John’s luck seems to be turning up when the stranger finds one safehouse after another on their journey to a hidden place, a modern Casablanca that will offer refuge to bioborgs such as himself. They are dogged at each step under the most unlikely and suspicious of circumstances by both his childhood friend and the mysterious black-clad soldiers.
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?
- John and the helpful stranger are joined in their journey by Rat, a hacker and conspiracy theorist with tons of information (some of which might even be true), and Rosalyn, also a bioborg soldier with a similar tale of persecution and the black-clad men, along with her 12-year-old daughter. Rosalyn had been a parent when she enlisted, and got out of the war before John due to a horrific injury – by the time she was healed, the war had ended. But Rosalyn is secretive and seems to be hiding something, and John is unsure who he can trust. Moreover, the nightmares return and his companions struggle with whether to trust John even as he faces the same issue with them. He must find out who is betraying him before his enemies finally catch him, and he doubts whether he find a cure for his mental fracture in the promised Casablanca.
Again, if this were to be turned into an actual book I’d make a lot of adjustments, taking several days to chew on it and tweak it (and fixing all the passive-voice stuff, which is an annoying writing “tic” of mine). It would also be a good time to go back and adjust the 1-sentence synopsis and 4-sentence back blurb, though both would likely change a bit after the draft was done. Outlines rarely survive the writing battle completely unharmed 🙂
Thank you again Jeremy! If you want to check out his website, you can find it here.
Also, if you have any questions about outlining for either Jeremy or us, drop them below in the comments!