I’m more of a pantser than a plotter. I always try to plot out a story, but along the way things change—characters take over. When I started my writing career, I had to submit a synopsis and the first 3 chapters, so, I created a rough outline for myself and wrote a synopsis. However, my editors quickly learned that when I turned in the book, it was not going to be a step by step repetition of the synopsis I’d submitted. Which was fine with them, as long as the final version didn’t veer too far off course and the story worked.
In less than two months I’m conducting a workshop on outlining a story. I’m also, right now, starting a new suspense, so I’m working on an outline for it. At this moment I only have a vague idea of what will happen in this story. I have an initial incident that leads to more incidents, and a vague idea of how the story will end, but that’s it. Although I could just start writing, I really would like to know in which direction I am headed. I also need a time line for the story. Will it take place in a few days? Weeks? Months?
I need an outline.
So, I decided to see what information I could find on line about outlining.
For fiction writers, there are several approaches to outlining.
- The 3- to 5-page synopsis, paragraph by paragraph summary of the story.
- The Snowflake method
- The Hero’s Journey method
- The 3-act play method, with beats
- Skeletal Outlining
- Similar to how we did it in school
- The main idea for a scene followed by what happens next
- The Freytag Method
- I’m not sure I understand that one
- Computer templates you can download where you simply fill in the blanks
Check out some of these on-line sites:
Notice how each headline lists a different number of ways.
There’s no right or wrong way to create an outline. If you’re submitting to an agent or editor and given guidelines on what they want, do it that way. But if this is simply something that will help you figure out where your story is going, choose what works best for you. Try a couple methods. Combine methods. An outline is merely a tool to help you; don’t get hung up on the process.