Thanks for joining us! Today we’re going to be discussing where most writers choose to begin their journey in writing fiction; the outline. (To streamline your outlining, download our free outline template pack here. For other free Novel Writing & Editing master list templates, sign up here!)
Writers are typically cast into two different camps on this topic. You have the “pantsers” (those who “fly by the seat of their pants” and do minimal to no outlining before putting pen to paper) and you have the “plotters” (those who do extensive outlines before delving into their projects). While most traditionally published authors tend to be plotters, there’s something to be said for each style and ultimately it depends upon the writer’s personal style.
If you’re a pantser, you’ll effectively skip this part (though you may like the Draft Zero Method!). However, if you’re a plotter, there are a number of outlining methods you can use, or you can use a combination of methods to flesh out your major and minor plot points before beginning your writing.
The Traditional Outline
For structured writers, the traditional approach is often the go-to method for outlining. Using this method, you divide your novel into individual chapters and summarize the story arc in each one in a few sentences. You will get the general feel for each chapter and can easily see the trajectory of your plotlines using this method. Some writers will do this outlining on index cards, to make it easier to shuffle things around as they see fit.
The Three-Act Outline
Another favorite of the structure-loving writer is the three-act method. Instead of dividing the novel into chapters, this approach divides the novel into acts; Act I generally introduces the primary conflict, Act II introduces the turning point and climax, and Act III resolves the conflict.
The Hero’s Journey Outline
Like the Three-Act method, the Hero’s Journey breaks the novel into three parts. This is a popular method for fantasy and science fiction writers (Star Wars is a prime example), and typically has the protagonist refuse a call to action in Act I, be thrust into a series of trials in Act II, and “win” in Act III.
The Freytag Outline
This method breaks the story into not three parts but five; Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement. Because it’s not as structured as most other methods, this is for the writer who has a little pantser in them.
The Synopsis Outline
Very unlike the previous methods which break novels up into bite-sized pieces, the Synopsis Outline is a running summary of the novel in its entirety without scene or chapter breaks. This is an incredibly useful method for writers who want to submit their work to agents and publishers, if for nothing more than to have a novel synopsis for their submission packages.
The Snowflake Outline
The Snowflake Outline focuses on “building up.” It begins with a one-sentence summary of your story, from which you expand to summaries of your characters, settings, scenes, storylines, goals, conflicts and resolutions.
The Draft Zero Outline
Pantsers who want to try outlining tend to love the Draft Zero method, because it focuses on speed rather than limiting oneself to formulas. This is really just a super-fast write-through of your story, getting out the general story as quickly as possible on the page to refine through later drafts, and often leaves out details (single letter placeholders for character names, or general ideas such as “they somehow escape”).
Regardless of what method you use, or if you use a method at all, thinking of the overall structure of your story early on leads to better, more refined work later on and is worth the time to reflect on.
How you outline is very much a personal choice, but it does help craft a more intricate story and there’s more than one way to do it!
What’s your outlining style? Let us know in the comments!
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I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write. — J.K. Rowling