Friday, July 29, 2011

Guest Post by Barbara Jolie

Outlining to Move Your Story Forward
by Barbara Jolie

Ever since high school, I've dreamed of writing a teen fiction book that would excite and inspire young people as much as my favorite authors excited and inspired me. Before, during and after college, I started the book numerous times and had even gotten several chapters deep before losing focus and giving up only to start over again.

After speaking with other writers, I think I've finally figured out why I'm having trouble keeping my book on track: I lack an outline. Like trying to reach a destination without a map, writing a book without an outline can lead to writing that meanders and rambles in a stream of consciousness and never forms a coherent whole. I've decided that before my next attempt at my book, my first step will be to write an outline, and I'm in the middle of that process right now. Here's what I've learned about the outlining process so far.

1. Outlines Are Adaptable
I used to be afraid of outlines because I thought using them would box me in to a formulaic, pre-packaged storyline with no room for my own creative liberties. In reality, all an outline is doing is keeping me walking forward in a straight line with my book. In the past, I've known how I want my story to begin, I've known how I want it to end, and I've known the key conflicts that must take place, but so far I have had trouble putting them all together into a whole. With an outline, how the characters "get there" is up to me, but I do know I have certain chapters that I must devote to arriving at the conflicts, dealing with them, and overcoming them if I'm to write a good book. I can change and adapt my outline all I want to suit the changing whims of my mind, as long as I still stay on track and push the story forward.

2. Outlines Give You More Manageable Goals
Writing an entire book is an intimidating task, but breaking it down into outline form section by section and then chapter by chapter gives you more manageable goals for writing your book. Establishing that I'm going to finish this book in a year may or may not get me there. But by establishing a set number of chapters in my outline that I will finish each month, I have given myself a more do-able goal, and a step-by-step plan for completing the entire work.

3. Outlining Is an Opportunity for Brainstorming
While creating my outline, I've started asking myself questions like, "Ok, so how does the main character actually GET herself in this tough situation?" and "Does it actually make sense for her to make that climactic decision, given her personality and past behavior?" The outlining process has forced me to get creative in the way I push my story forward and has led me to flesh out my characters in greater detail based on the major events in their lives and how they respond to them. So the outlining process is actually leading to a better overall book!

Has outlining helped you in the past? How could it help your writing process in the future?

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By-line: This guest post was contributed by Barbara Jolie, who writes for online classes. She welcomes your comments at her email:

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