In Your Corner: The Art of the Outline (IV)

The last few weeks have been a lot of fun as we’ve covered some of the many popular outlining methods available to the author preparing to start a new project. We’ve covered a total of nine:

In a lot of ways, putting together and defining the various points on this list has felt a lot like the process of drafting my usual late-week blog post. Perhaps this is because my usual late-week blog post is the product of much planning, and planning for me often takes the form of–that’s right!–outlining. And researching. And organizing what I’ve researched into the most streamlined, most effective means of communicating possible. The product is, for me, a string of blog posts that say the most they can with as little ornamentation as possible.

I hope that at least one of the methods we’ve covered proves useful for you to try! Regardless of whether it proves useful as a great new addition to your toolbox or as part of the process of elimination in discovering what works for you. I’d love to hear about your experiences in trying one or all or any of the above methods! And next time I write, you can expect further thoughts on where to go from here–from the outlining desk to the drafting table.

Thinking of you always. ♣︎

Thinking of you always. ♣︎

Elizabeth
Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: The Art of the Outline (III)

Two posts ago, I introduced the concept of outlining as a function of planning your next book, and in my last post, I began to present you with a buffet of possibilities you might mix and match between, with the idea that you could research further into the one or few that appeal to you. As it turned out, I had rather too much to say about too many possible options to put into just one post, so I had to break off about halfway through with the promise to finish in this, my latest post.

If you missed the previous methods of outlining, we covered the Bullet Point, Sticky Note, and Index Card methods, some of the apps and software available, and the Hero’s Journey, an organizational metaphor which might just provide a structure upon which to hang one’s outline. [You can read that post here.]

This week, I have four more outline options for you to consider.

FIVE COMMANDMENTS

If this method sounds a little biblical in nature, don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you carve anything onto stone tablets (unless you actually enjoy that–in which case, I admire you and your wrist strength very much). It is perhaps appropriate that the Five Commandments method would evoke visions of bygone days, given that it’s a well-respected outlining practice with a long legacy of usage. As with my last post’s description of the Hero’s Journey, this is an outlining practice distilled from an organizational metaphor. This one, as we’ve already noted, evokes the sense of a sacred text, but what it describes is the standard five-point plan often taught in high school and college classrooms to creative writing students. The points are:

  1. Inciting Incident
  2. Complications
  3. Crisis
  4. Climax
  5. Resolution

The general idea is for the writer to use these “five essentials of a good story” (as one of my professors once put it) as a starting point, or as a framework upon which to hang the coat of one’s entire book. Functionally one can make that outline as simple or as complicated as is useful–simple phrases or entire paragraphs answering to the implicit questions posed by each point. I absolutely must recommend checking out Joslyn Chase’s “How to Write a Book Using an Outline,” which covers both the Five Commandments method in detail as well as the next one I’m going to summarize here: the Nine Checkpoints. (She also points to some additional resources to flesh out your understanding of outlines, which is always nice.)

NINE CHECKPOINTS

The Nine Checkpoints method sounds a bit more bureaucratic than biblical, which can be either freeing or somewhat discouraging in the way of standing in lines at the DMV. In reality, it’s simply an unpacked version of the previously described commandments, only instead of five points around which to cluster one’s ideas, there are nine:

  1. Hook
  2. Backstory
  3. Trigger
  4. Crisis
  5. Struggle
  6. Epiphany
  7. Plan
  8. Climax
  9. Resolution

In this outline method, one can look at the hook, backstory, and trigger sections as equating roughly with the Five Commandments’ “Inciting Incident” point, with the crisis, climax, and resolution sections all have exact correspondence. The only loose points remaining, then, are the struggle, epiphany, and plan sections. It’s easy to see the correlations and divergences between the two methods; what’s less easy to see is the organizational metaphor behind this outlining method. In my mind, each checkpoint in a line of checkpoints carries equal weight and priority, which may or may not reflect how I actually feel about the work I’m writing. Perhaps I know with absolute certainty what I want for one or three or eight of the points, and the others are able to flex and be sculpted around those certain ones. Perhaps I don’t. It all depends on the specific demands of the work in progress.

GROCERY STORE

Before this last month, I would have ended my list of suggested outlining methods there, with a Cold War or Man From U.N.C.L.E. reference regarding checkpoints. But then, while researching additional resources to point you to, I stumbled across this excellent piece on Sharon Watson’s blog, “Fun with Outlines. No, Really.” (Putting a positive spin on things is one sure way to always hook my attention!) Watson’s post on outlining introduced me to the idea of the Grocery Store method, as well as the final one I’ll summarize, the Restaurant method. What I love most about these methods is that they flow naturally out of a more intuitive writing process, and they flex in exactly the way that I hinted at earlier. This is not to discount the value of a more evenly-weighted lists or principles around which to circle an outline, which I feel have significant benefits in ensuring even pacing and a sense of “completeness,” particularly if one is drafting a work of creative nonfiction or memoir. That said, I might just love the intuitive means of the Grocery Store method best.

Grocery stores are easy to picture in the mind’s eye. They’re organized in intuitive ways, with snacks near drinks since they tend to be consumed together, and household cleaning supplies near pet supplies since, well, half of caring for a pet is cleaning up after her. (I’m putting off vacuuming right now. Why do cats have to have so much fur?) It’s also easy to put yourself in the mindset of a shopper in a grocery store: you go in with a few items you have to get on your list, but a couple of other things catch your eye as you walk up and down the aisles. This is where you need to be in order to use the Grocery Store method to outline your next book. Then, all you have to do is picture the contents of your work in progress as the produce filling the aisles. You can reflect this structure in a bullet point list (taking us alllll the way back to my first recommendation in respect to outlining!), or you can mock up a visual outline more along the lines of the Sticky Note method: sketch some aisles, and fill them with all the information you feel is important going into your book, leaving room for extra items to fill out the shelves as you get underway.

RESTAURANT

Last but certainly not least, the restaurant method is another outlining option I first read about in Sharon Watson’s outline post. This one is a little harder to visualize mentally, since Watson is sharing tips as an educator with other educators in mind, and her worksheets are designed with high schoolers in mind. The challenge she issues to her students is to picture the variety of restaurants and how they’re arranged, from a fast food restaurant to a buffet to a sit-down gourmet restaurant. In a sense, I can see this as a useful starting point in the quest to outlining your next book, as it may present you with a range of organizational metaphors from which you need only pick one to develop further using one of the other methods I’ve described over the last two of my own posts. I did think it worth including, however, simply because of its novelty; we’ve all heard of sticky notes and bullet points before, but have you thought of using a restaurant to outline your work before? Chances are there are some seeds of possibility there.

Looking for yet more information on outlining, and how to make it work for you? I’ll be back in two weeks to close out this series and to answer any questions you might have.

Thinking of you always. ♣︎

Elizabeth
Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: The Art of the Outline (II)

My last post introduced the concept of outlining as a function of planning your next book. We got so far as to be ready to start looking at specific ways of doing so. My goal isn’t to recommend any specific way, but to present you with a buffet of possibilities you can mix and match between, should you like, or that you can research further into the one or few that appeal to you.

METHODS OF OUTLINING

In this section of today’s post, I’m going to highlight some methods that have been thoroughly described elsewhere, with a brief summary description. I highly recommend following the hyperlinks to read the beautiful words and details put together by these phenomenal author advocates!

BULLET POINTS

This is probably the simplest and most straightforward possibilities out there, and a great place to start if you’ve never or rarely ever created an outline, and are just dipping your toe into the process. Bullet points are one of the most motivating kinds of information organization systems out there, as there is a great deal of emphasis on streamlining things down to the bare minimum of crucial points. (In that way it is similar to the sticky-note and index card methods, which I get into later on.) Whether you’re working in print and doing a lot of the editing before you even put pen to paper, or if you’re using some kind of word processor that allows for constant reorganization and editing after the fact, there are huge benefits to this system of outlining. It forces an author to focus on the fundamentals: characters, plot architecture, inciting actions, and the basic scaffolding of the book. Whenever I’ve used this method myself (mostly back in my college days, to be honest) I discovered connections and related ideas as I typed them up, and used the COPY + PASTE functions on my laptop frequently to regroup these ideas into clumps that felt right together. The Australian literary magazine Writer’s Edit has broken its recommended “clumps” (my imperfect word, not theirs) to a series of eleven, including timeline and character design and arcs, voice, chapter organization (and reorganization), and how to survive the dreaded “middle.” The article was written by Kyla Bagnall, and is worth tucking away among your many drafting resources.

STICKY NOTES

To echo what I said earlier in the “Bullet Points” description, keeping things simple has enoooormous benefits to many authors–whether it’s because of your own editing within a word processor or the repeatedly limited space provided by a sticky note pad (and I’m resisting the urge to recommend buying those fantastically huge, easel-sized sticky notes that are used for workshops and breakout activities in professional settings). The physical constraints of sticky notes (and index cards, too, as I discuss below) force an author to slow down and think very deliberately about what to include–and there’s the added benefit that you can essentially rearrange the sticky notes as you discover connections between them, whenever you want (although keep a water-soluble temporary adhesive glue stick with you as you go, since some sticky note pads aren’t exactly known for … sticking). You can even follow the same loose pattern as you would in a bullet point list (or turn a bullet point document into a sticky note outline, if you like to edit down digitally but arrange the points visually).

I have only used this process once, but I loved the flexibility of trying out different visual arrangements: information trees and hierarchies, venn diagrams, and loosely clusters of notes that would break up and reform as the drafting process continued. Any available wall or window will do for your workspace, which makes things quite fun for everyone except for the poor person on window-cleaning duties afterward! On the Writing With Sharon Watson blog, Sharon has included some additional ideas for a sticky note method, and there are plenty of beautiful pictures of people at work using it, as with the image at the top of this post. Sharon comes at the subject as an educator tasked with motivating students and teachers alike to tackle creative outlining styles, which I find really interesting.

INDEX CARDS

The Index Card Method can indeed be looked at as a slightly less-fun alternative to sticky notes (especially if no walls or windows are available for outlining), lacking both the adhesive backing and the array of bright colors available that can provide useful color-coding (but here’s a secret … colored index cards exist too! Google them if you haven’t seen them before). A definite benefit to using the cards is that you can easily pack a lot more information on the one piece of heavy paper. (Think of how much information old-school library card catalogs managed to pack onto each Dewey reference card!) I could easily see using a phase-by-phase approach with the bullet point section coming first, full of rough and unrefined ideas, followed by the sticky note rearrangement method, which allows for more intuitive clusters of information to just … fall together. And once an author has nailed down exactly the order and shape of things, it might prove useful to rewrite the sticky note information (and expound on it) onto index cards that can be numbered and ordered in sequence. This saves a lot on storage space–you only have one little stack instead of a huge swathe of your room covered in sticky notes–and also keeps everything close to hand and easy to access when beginning the first draft. You’ll never forget what plot point needs to come next according to your grand scheme of things, because you’ll already have sequenced everything while converting the sticky notes into index cards.

Even if you skip the bullet point document and the sticky note method, index cards can prove mighty useful in the drafting process. I have been invited to guest judge several small-town high school speech and debate tournaments over the years, and it has to be said that the speakers who come with sequenced index cards in hand never seem to waste time trying to dredge up information before their presentation time expires. (I prefer spontaneous speeches for other reasons, but that’s beside the point.) And the point here is that outlining and sequencing your work, whether book or public speech, helps prevent veering off course and rambling. In high school, the suggested outlining structure is incredibly simple:

  • Introduction
  • Transition
  • Point/example 1
  • Point/example 2
  • Point/example 3
  • Transition 2
  • Conclusion

… and that’s really about it. Your book is unlikely to be structured as simply as a time-restricted speech or an essay on assigned reading, but you get the idea. And if your structure gets overwhelmingly complicated to the point where you seem to lose your place, you might consider going back to the initial bullet point section and the article I reference there. If things seem just impossible to streamline and you’re feeling panicked, it might also be time to look into those apps and computer programs, including the famous Scribner, that lead you through a step-by-step process of converting your outline into something that looks and feels like it makes sense. More on that next.

SCRIVENER/SOFTWARE/APPS

I don’t like picking and choosing programs and apps to recommend based on personal preference (favoritism!), but Scrivener is probably the most widely-heard-of example of what’s out there, although it is now facing increasing competition from apps available for mobile devices and app-based operating systems. First figure out what device or devices you want to be using for the outlining process, because that will in large part determine which specific one you pick. Will you need to go to the Apple App Store, or the Android or Google Play app stores for other devices? Some apps are not built to work across both sides of the Apple vs. Android system divide, so you need to know what you’re going to use going in. And don’t be afraid to look up tutorials on using the platform you’re looking into, on YouTube and elsewhere. YouTube helped me disassemble my bread machine in order to replace the drive belt, so a bit of system description and such will most definitely be present on the great and mighty Internet. Here is a great example of a YouTube tutorial on Scrivener by Literature and Latte that visually explains how to use the software’s outlining function. (Scrivener is often offered at a steep discount during or after National Novel Writing Month, so if you’re interested, definitely keep an eye out for good deals like that.) The video may be four years old as of the date of this post, but it hasn’t changed very much in that time. Don’t be shy about trying your hand out with different app or software trial periods, either! Sometimes you don’t know what will truly help until you’ve spent some quality time with it.

THE HERO’S JOURNEY

Well, I’m several essays into this one post and I still have five more outlining methods that I’m excited to talk about–so I’ve decided to save the final four for my next post (on March 25th) and close out today by briefly mentioning the Hero’s Journey method.

What is the Hero’s Journey? It’s a sort of organizational metaphor originally put forth by the Great and Mighty AKA “appears in loads of composition textbooks” Joseph Campbell. I can’t even touch all the finer points of his epic (bad pun alert!) analysis, which took up much of his professional life, but suffice it to say this is the kind of organizational structure (or “monomyth”) that underlies many (if not most) great stories in the Western canon. Many of you will have probably heard some of his terminology before, so I won’t go into too much detail–and besides, Scott Jeffrey of CEOsage has created a wonderful guide to the Hero’s Journey monomyth and how one can apply it to daily life. If you extrapolate out just a little bit, you can easily see how an author might choose to use the outline of the Hero’s Journey as a kind of template for outlining their own! An author might keep it simple and make use of the three (3) stages of the journey (departure, initiation, and return) or go absolutely wild with the ten (10) more detailed steps that underlie the big three, swapping out the monomyth’s basic steps with the relevant or related bits of your own work in progress. You can get into the weeds of composition and literary theory if you want to by checking out out every book on Campbell from your local library, or you can just start with the basics as described by Jeffrey. You’ll start to see an outline develop before you even know it!

More fun options next time, I promise!

Thinking of you always. ♣︎

Daylight Savings is this Sunday!
Elizabeth
Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: The Art of the Outline (I)

In the time that I’ve been contributing to Self Publishing Advisor, I don’t think I’ve once talked about outlines and outlining––at least, not as the primary subject of a post. That’s about to change!

I can’t think of a better time to address outlining and planning than after a year of great upheaval and disruption, when so few things went according to design and the world proved time and time again the old adage about one’s best laid plans:

Unfortunately for them, mice have neither opposable thumbs or the ability to write the Great American Novel––and I must confess, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH was one of my absolute favorite books as a child, so I wouldn’t have minded if they did. My mother, on the other hand, didn’t find a nimble mouse detective nearly so appealing.

For those of us who do have opposable thumbs and the desire to use them for writing, we have long debated the merits and drawbacks of outlining, of sitting down to build the architecture of our next book before hanging the wall panels and window frames upon it. There are those who are naturally drawn to this kind of thing; I remember envying them as a college student. Such orderly minds! As you might have guessed, I was not made from the same stuff. I was, as many authors now phrase it, a pantser, perpetually neglecting to outline any of my papers the way that American students are encouraged to do from middle school onward. I have also neglected to outline most of my creative writing projects over the intervening years, leaning on long late-night writing sessions to finish out drafts.

As I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve come to experience the importance of cultivating the kind of “organized thinking” I’d only admired from afar as a younger person. I may not be naturally inclined toward rigorous planning sessions, but as my ability to draft for hours on end late at night has attenuated over time, writing became much more of a challenge to be overcome than a creative endeavor undertaken as easily as breathing. Writing, it turns out, takes time, and I am merely human in that my time is limited … and growing moreso as I age, and competing concerns such as family and work jostle within my planner for all available waking hours. (And naps. Let’s be honest. I find naps more and more mandatory as I age, too.)

So it is that I’ve come to regard outlining as both a science worth mastering and an art worth ever refining by constant practice. And I’ll confess, I absolutely do still struggle with the whole concept. Why spend valuable time planning what to write when I might just as well be spending that time actually writing, getting underway for real? But I need this slower beginning to a large writing project, it turns out, and I will waste far less time later in the manuscript drafting process if I remember what beats I am meant to be hitting and by which page number (or word count) I should begin curving my story arcs toward their denouements. Many of my novel-length works would have required far less editorial work later on if I’d only planned ahead and then stayed on target instead of simply meandering wherever my heart desired at any given moment in the writing process.

Of course, it’s one thing to say such a thing and it’s another to actually feel convinced that it’s true. Plenty of teacher, professors, and fellow writers have tried to convince me of the value of outlines, and yet I wasn’t ready to feel that truth until I’d stopped just short of finishing multiple projects because I couldn’t figure out how to get them back on track. This isn’t an issue for me if I have even a vague plan when I set out of what the point, purpose, and closing mood were supposed to be.

I know I can’t persuade you to outline before you’re ready, as I took a couple of decades to reach that conclusion myself. You might be one of the lucky ones, like those planners among my college acquaintances who seemed born thinking in bullet points, but truthfully outlining is a practice that can be picked up at any stage of life, and any stage of a person’s craft. You might be like me, and find yourself boxed into an ever-more-cluttered brain corner by the increase in mayhem brought on by 2020. And if you’re just on the cusp of leaning that way, of maybe taking your first baby steps into the outlining world, I hope my words of affirmation here will prove the encouragement you need in order to try it out.

I thought I might take this topic a little farther next week and offer some practical how-to tips of what to do once pen hits paper or you sit down to type up that first outline. There are so many competing ways of doing it––what do you think? Would seeing some options prove useful to you?

Thinking of you always. ♣︎

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is gettyimages-1286378605.jpg
Elizabeth
Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

How to Organize Your Self-Published Novel

There are many ways to organize a novel. Many writers follow a traditional rise and fall plot line, while other writers play with unconventional methods such as moving back and forth between time periods or points of view. While it is up to you how you decide to organize your novel, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. While outlining your story, ask yourself these questions.

1) What happens in the beginning of the book to hook my reader?

2) What will make the reader keep reading the book?

3) Is the story understandable?

4) Have I covered all the information I need to share?

As you write your novel, don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques. Also, read tons of books in your genre (as well as those outside your genre) to get ideas. Finally, always have someone else read your draft. Whether you hire a professional editor or ask a friend you trust, get feedback from a reader.

ABOUT WENDY STETINA: Wendy Stetina is a sales and marketing professional with over 30 years experience in the printing and publishing industry. Wendy works as the Director of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; and together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction, or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Wendy Stetina can put you on the right path.