Writing

Outlining: 3 Ways

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For all of you writers out there, how do you go about planning a story? Personally throughout the past six years my ways of planning have varied between flying by the seat of my pants and planning every tiny bit out meticulously. Sometimes it comes easily and other times it’s like pushing water up hill with a rake. Hard right?

But it can be done. Regardless of what you’ve got planned in your head, even if it’s nothing.

Some of the ways you can outline will be super full on with all of the minuscule details set out, whereas others can simply get you thinking of ideas. Coming up with some sort of plan can get your brain buzzing and make the ideas come flying at you.

I’ll confess now. As well as my main WIP, there is another story floating around in my brain. I have fully fleshed out characters with rich back-stories and history between them – but I have no plot. It’s been a problem for me for months and I’ve had the perfect excuse to ignore it – working on my main WIP. Until this morning when it suddenly occurred to me that, although I cannot find any writing prompts to give me ideas and I’m struggling to think of something original to do with it – that doesn’t stop me planning out what I’ve already got. In fact the small idea I have, once planned out, will help me build on it to create a full story. I can’t do that without outlining what I have so far.

My preferred ways of outlining ideas are Freytag’s Pyramid3 Act 8 Sequence Format, and   Clustering.

Freytag’s Pyramid is a visual way of planning out a story line by plotting out the main events of the story and how they progress. I find it extremely useful for making sure that my scenes and action is in the right place in my story. For example in a short story of mine, the original storyline meant that my climax was right at the beginning rather than a build up of tension beforehand. This outline made me realise how to fix that and change it around without cutting bits of my prose out.

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It plots out an introduction to the world of the story and its main characters. The tension rising up until the climax. The climactic important scene. The repercussions of this climax and the end resolution. Give it a go! It’s not difficult at all and really helps to set out the plot in a way that’s very useful to visual learners/writers.

3 Act 8 Sequence Format is something I have come across fairly recently. Originally used for screenwriting, it also can be useful for prose sometimes. Whilst it is not my most preferred method of outlining – it does have its uses. I like to use all of the outlines when plotting before deciding on which works best with my story – some work best with certain outlines.

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This format helps to plan out the setup of the story, the confrontation, and the resolution. You can think of this as the beginning, middle and end. The format like the pyramid, is very visual and focuses on the main events of the story.

Clustering is mostly used (with my work) as a way of coming up with ideas for a story like using key words and imagery to help me come up with a story, but it does also have its place with outlining. The format can be used to separate chapters into sections and then build on the events of each chapter within those sections. With doing it this way, I advise using colourful pens to colour code different sections – otherwise it might become quite confusing!

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You can find a whole post on clustering as a writing exercise here.

Hopefully this will have inspired some of you to give these outlines a go, so sit yourself down and get writing!

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