Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What does my outline look like?

Someone asked for an example of an outline. I realized that none of the information on the site currently shows anything close to what I currently use.

For me, my "Outline.txt" is the single most important file for a novel and everything centers off of it.

I divide my files up in to scenes, and have a program to put them together in to chapters based upon the order in the outline file.

It also preloads template files with the information in the outline (to give me an idea of where I'm expecting the story to go and who will be in it and what I need to accomplish).

Here's an entry for the first scene of "Veggie Time".

   * :doc:`Selling to couples 

     :POV: (3PL) :term:`Randolph`



            Introduce the 
            :term:`unintentional homosexuality`;

     :Tension (Moment): What is being sold?
     :Tension (Overall): 

            What kind of person is Randolph?

            :term:`food worms`;
            :term:`unintentional homosexuality`;

            :term:`high on grass`; :term:`alien food`;
            :term:`life of eunuch`;

     :Place: :term:`Rick's Apartment`
     :Date (Relative): 25 years after aliens invaded

The format of this is reStructuredText with Sphinx extensions. The ":term:" entries reference primarily glossary entries, but the glossary entry may reference additional resources or may actually be located in a file with additional information. The earlier it is in the outlining process, the more the glossary just sits at the top of the Outline file.

This is actually a rather well filled-out entry. I frequently haver far less information actually present. In fact, in a later outline, I just started out with less information in the outline.

In a later book, I tried a much reduced outline. Here's a scene from"The Chicken Dinner Man":

   * :doc:`The Birth of the Green 

      :Scene: (1016 words) The Birth of the Green /

              Grandmother’s Escape

            A loner works in an isolated cabin trying 

            to produce food using magic. He’s clearly 
            comfortable being alone, perhaps unusually
            so. He’s attempting what has been accepted
            as being impossible, and like any quality
            mad scientist, he’s had mixed success. This
            latest failure was alive, and worse than 
            that, it escaped.
      :Setting: :term:`Brown County` in 2010.
            Establish time. Draw connection between 

            previous scene and this one. (college 
            ring? explicit proximity to campus? 
            explicitly mention problem professor?) 
            This also sets up the :term:`Mankiller`.

If you notice something, the ":Scene:" line here seems a little out of place. Check this entry, further in to the outline for that story:

# Chapter 4

   * Scene: (1016 words) Chicken Dinner decides to help
   * Scene: (1016 words) Mankiller and the oncoming storm
   * Scene: (1016 words) The cat and the demon

The first thing I did was decide on how many words I wanted the total story, and then look at how long my typical scenes were and try to pick an average scene size. The goal isn't to be anal about the scene size, so much as have some goal where I knew if I stayed close to that size, I'd be close to both the story goal as well as the word-size goal. If one chapter is 7k words or another chapter is three words, that doesn't matter as much as the average.

You can also see that the first thing I did was decide one-line descriptions of the scenes, then I broke then up in to chapters that made sense with two or three scenes.

This "start small and work up" logic is recommended as while you expand details in one area, you can think of important points for others. It is far easier to change a key detail in an outline than it is when you're 50% in to the story.

This sort of outline can totally work, too, as it provides enough information for me to know what is going on in the story. Even though the scenes are described in single lines of a few words, I had to double-check that I only actually wrote half of that novel, as the whole story is so clear to me.