Look, I graduated with a degree in English way, way back in the late ’90s, so I know all about outlining, which is exactly why as a writer I’ve wanted to skip over that part and dive write into the fleshing-out-the-story part.
As it turns out, though, I’ve already been doing some of what Weiland suggests in her book without really thinking of it as “outlining,” albeit in a much less consistent and organized way. Outlining Your Novel has given me lots of new ideas to take my story plotting and note-taking to a whole new level.
It’s a relief to know that there is no need to confine “outlining” to the box that my fifth grade teacher put it in.
Instead, what Weiland’s described method of outlining means — at least to me — is mapping out the story in a systematic way, gradually delving deeper into the various characters, plot points, scenes, etc.., until there is a fully fleshed out story that can then be written out into a first draft.
She uses college-ruled composition books. LOTS of them, and not only writes about her characters, her premise, and her plot points, but also asks lots of “What if?” questions to get the creative juices flowing. She uses highlighters to create “links” in her written notes that will point to pages to be further developed in subsequent pages.
I am kind of visualizing this kind of outlining as the offspring that would result if the of the old-school method (Roman numerals, letters, numbers, sequentially laid out according to a very strict form) married Wikipedia and had a baby.
You know how Wikipedia has pages about different people, events in history, places, concepts, etc.., but within those pages has countless links to related items mentioned within the article? That’s what I’m getting out of Weiland’s method of outlining. If you’ve ever worked with a wiki, you know that when you create an article, you can go ahead and insert links for related articles that should be made that upon clicking on them lead to the page that will house the future article. (It’s sort of like how visionaries laid thousands of miles of railroad track before the first trains were even built.)
If I had done things this way when I started working on my first attempted novel years ago, maybe I would’ve either realized it wasn’t going to work before I wasted time writing 70,000 words that went nowhere, or I’d have already finished the thing and moved on.
The suggestions offered by Weiland in this book are paradigm-shifting for me. But not only does it give me a whole new perspective on what it means to outline my novel, I also found some other surprisingly good tips inside, like creating a calendar for the events in my novel. I think this will especially come in handy as I’m trying to keep track of dates in the mid-1700s.
I’m so grateful to be armed with the ideas in this book now that I’m tackling a new project. I have no doubt that outlining will be one of the keys to not only writing a novel, but writing a well-planned novel with a great story, and finishing it.
Stay tuned for more updates. #amwriting