Some people can start writing their novel the second they come up with their general idea and create their cast of characters. I am not one of those people. They only way I can make sure that my plot is consistent and has good pacing is if I write an outline. It can be hard to figure out how much detail to put into an outline. Some people need to write very specific outlines, while others can jot down a few plot points and then start writing. The type of outline you create for your story is ultimately up to you and your writing style. I have found that I like to write outlines that lean more towards being specific, but are not too specific.
When I begin thinking of my outline, I start generally, and I work backward. I figure out the climax and ending first because I want to know right away where my story is headed. Once I figure those out, I am able to decide on where my story needs to begin both time wise and character arc wise. This is important because I need to know how and where the plot will kick off, and I also need to know where the main character is emotionally so I can figure out how to plot out their character arc. After that, I create a time span for my story so I know how to pace the plot.
From there, I begin to fill in a little bit of the details. I personally don’t put in too much detail into my outline to allow myself the ability to be flexible while I’m actually writing. During this part of the outline process there are few general questions that I ask myself:
- What needs to happen to my characters in order for them to go through the growth I need them to go through?
- What situations are my characters going to get into, and how are they going to deal with them?
- What are going to be the forces that drive the plot along?
- What needs to happen in order to get to the climatic point of the plot, and then what needs to happen to reach the resolution of the plot?
A lot of these questions kind of piggyback off of each other, but they are just a little bit different to give you a new way to think about your plot and pacing.
Those questions help me to create the bigger plot points of my story, while still allowing me to decide on the fly what’s going to happen to connect those plot points together. It also allows me to tweak the plot points as I write because often I come up with new ideas that I want to incorporate into the story.