This kind of outline will probably work for a short story or for a chapter of a longer story. Obviously, the longer the work, the longer the outline needs to be.

Alright, if you’ve been following this series of Friday posts by now you should have a good setting, some characters, and a theme for your story, and last week you decided whether your story was going to be character or world driven.  The first half of building your plot is relatively easy for most people, it involves broad strokes and general changes.  However, it is very important.  The second half of building your plot is going to be much more difficult, but is equally important and necessary.

Right now you know have a general idea of what your story is going to look like.  However, a successful writer once said to me, ‘Unless you know the details, you don’t have a story’.  You know that your character Frank is going to get in touch with his inner child, that Bobby is going to become a man, or that there will be a civil war that changes the face of your setting.  However, until you know how these thing happen, your story doesn’t exist – and it can’t exist.  Many writers figure out the how as they write, and many writers will tell you that this is not a good idea.  Generally there are two approaches to detailing your story:

1) Learn as you write – on the surface this is easier, it gets you to the writing faster, and lets you get indulge your desire to put words on page.  However, it is plagued by problems.  If you don’t know where your story is going then many of you will be plagued by writers block as you try to figure out what happens next.  You will have to repeated rewrite scenes to fix things that don’t add up, and you may wind up having to scrap a story that is half or three-quarters of the way done.  Some people don’t have these problems, but they are few and far between.  I want to emphasize that this is a valid approach to writing, but it involves a lot of backing up and editing.

2) Outline and then write – this is harder in the beginning.  To make a solid outline you need to determine how things take place before you actually start to write them.  You need to work out the entire story in outline format before you ever open a word document and start your first paragraph, and that is hard.  Any writer can tell you that figuring out what comes next is difficult, and often outlining is a frustrating and excruciating process (speaking from experience), but it is effective.  When you have an outline and know where your story is going and how it’s going to get there, then it is much easier to actually write the story itself.

So, here is your challenge this week.  Choose a method and start working.  You have the general details, you should have some idea of where your story is going, now start to work out the details.  I suggest you start outlining, but if you can’t wait, or if outlining just doesn’t work for you, then start writing instead.

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