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Outlining a Novel: The Bullet Point | 2017 #NaNoPrep

Organizing and planning ahead may well rank itself as one of my favorite things in the world. So it’s no surprise when it comes to the NaNoWriMo debate of “Planner” vs. “Pantser” that I’m a whole-hearted Planner:

So how does a planner tackle NaNoWriMo?

Outlines are the bloodstreams to planners. It is half the novel. It is the framework that gives structure of the life of the novel. And yes, I will go down with this ship. #Planline?

There are definitely online programs and softwares, but for those of us who like to take charge on our own or are just too broke to spend money 🙂 I thought I would share some of my favorite ways to outline an novel.

And this can be plot or character development. We’ll be covering some of the oldie-but goodie basic bullet-point styles that I love and some more unique ones I’ve learned from other writers over my time of doing NaNoWriMo.

The Bullet Point

This may be my most-used form of outlining, just because it’s straightforward and easy to understand. It does take up a lot of space if you are being really detailed about it, and it is one that only provides as much structures as you are interested in adding to it. A lot of people have different methods of this outlining structure and one of my first exposures to learning about this style of planning can come from here.

However, I like to change this structure a bit by adding a bit more. The general breakdown falls like this:

  • PART X, I like to think of this as ONE for introduction, TWO for Rising Action, THREE for Climax, FOUR  for falling action, and FIVE for conclusion
    • Chapter Y: Here, a topic sentence of the basic action of the chapter. For example: Jonathan attends the party and meets several students including A, B, C, and is kidnapped.
      • Now we break down the scenes, i.e. Jonathan meets A.
      • Jonathan meets B.
      • Jonathan meets C.
        • Within each of these we can further break down the steps of each scene. Jonathan escapes his encounter with B to hide in a out-of-sight room, where he runs into C.
        • C recognizes Jonathan even though Jonathan does not know C and they have an uneasy discussion about the party and it’s intention before C leaves.
        • Jonathan leaves the room as well and sees people leaving as they whisper about the murder that just occurred.
      • Jonathan is kidnapped.

That makes up the basic format that you might have seen you used a lot. However, I like to add this additional step of qualifying each action and the importance of each scene. I like to think that if the scene does not actually add anything, then it deserves to be cut. For example:

  • PART X,
    • Chapter Y:  Jonathan attends the party and meets several students including A, B, C, and is kidnapped.
      • Jonathan meets A.
        • Plot: How does this scene push forward the plot? A’s good rapport with Jonathan is the building for their friendship later in the novel.
        • Established: What does this scene tell us now that we didn’t know before? What is established from this meeting? A does not have a good relationship with their father [Thematically: Old/young generation gap]
      • Jonathan meets B.
        • Plot: Sets up contrasting relationship, not of enemies but wariness between Jonathan and B that we can later use for development into a good friendship.
        • Established: Uneasy conversation with B about A’s history, tells us not only that B’s family is old as they say so explicitly, but that A’s family is new. [Thematically: Old/New wealth gap]
      • Jonathan meets C.
        • Jonathan escapes his encounter with B to hide in a out-of-sight room, where he runs into C.
        • C recognizes Jonathan even though Jonathan does not know C and they have an uneasy discussion about the party and it’s intention before C leaves.
        • Jonathan leaves the room as well and sees people leaving as they whisper about the murder that just occurred.
        • Plot: Meeting with C sets up an unfortunate rivalry and uneasy relationship that we can further exploit.
        • Established: C knows Jonathan from the time that Jonathan has forgotten due to his amnesia. [Thematically: Past/Present gap]
      • Jonathan is kidnapped.
        • Plot: Transitions us into next scene of climbing action.
        • Established: This party is for other intentions other than socializing

It’s worth nothing that I also like to include [Themes] inside of my outline. For this part of the novel, where I am first introducing my cast of characters, I’m trying to also introduce a sense of dissonance, which is why each scene tries to point toward a gap, whether that is generational, class, or time. Having these extra tabs on the side give me a little bit of a reminder of the tone and voice I want to be using.

What I love most about this outline is that is really is as much or as little as you want to include. Other people do like outlines that require more of them and force them to really prepare, but I like having this leeway in my writing to change things around, maybe twist a scene a bit and emphasize something else.

It is so important to remember that your outline is for you. It is whatever works best for yourself in writing your novel. You’re the one that is going to be using this in the month of November, so it’s important that you gauge what works best for yourself.

Good luck!

XOXO

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