Writing Tips

How to outline your novel

Firstly, this I am not stating that you must outline your novel Indeed there are those writers among us who are capable and work better with the novel idea from the beginning to the end. Those of us who intuitively know when to add a new chapter and why. Those of us who know when they have arrived at the end of the story. I once was one such writer.

However,… I have since changed my writing style. For better and or for worse, it seems that it is here to stay. So, what changed? Well, you may ask. Way back in 2011 I was recuperating from a session of chemotherapy I had with breast cancer. Feeling a little down, I trolled the internet, not really understanding what I was looking for, only that it had something to do with how to write a book.

I didn’t really need it as I could happily log into Word and continue where I had left, whenever it was. But this night, left to my own devices and searched Google for “How to write a book”. Little did I realise this would be the beginning of a whole new saga in my writing life. I have often said there is nothing you cannot find online. That is so true. Besieged with page after page of advice, webinars, seminars, workshops, courses, writer’s groups and more I found myself in a turmoil of what to click on first. Then I found an article on The Snowflake Method of Writing by Randy IngermansonNaturally, I read the article which I found interesting. But that’s all it was to me. He starts his writing with characters. For me, my novel wasn’t about the characters, yet about the story. The plot. What happens in it? People (or characters) come along as and when they do. However, the more I searched, the more I found his article popping up on y screen. Other writers were using it and posting articles on their website too. I thought I should give it a whirl. But I have since moved on, though it is more of a deviation than a complete dismissal of the method.

You see, I found a brilliant piece of software that showed me a whole new way of looking at my writing. Not only that, but it was also FREE to book! It is called yWriter. I think for memory it was only up to version 4 back then. At the time of this writing, it is now up to version 7. If you are an outliner, and are struggling with MS Word, or OO Writer, you will love this software, just as I did all those years ago. It enabled me to make notes, add characters (from the Snowflake Method) add and delete chapters and scenes, move them around and oh, so much more. Of course, I have an addictive nature, so this was absolutely what I wanted, and I spent many days, weeks and even months on this, re-creating my books one by one down the line.

So how does it work? Well, I will not go into the entire structure of this software when you can check out this great vid for yourself. But here are some tips on how to outline your novel.

Ok, first use get yourself a notebook and pen to jot down these points.

  1. Ten chapters – Ten scenes. I like to break each chapter into ten scenes. Just the other day I explained a point of this in a writer’s group I admin by using a movie as an example. Each scene in the movie is a scene in the chapter. Each scene is unique and there is a change of scenery which the camera shows. Sometimes the camera will move back and forth from one scene to another, showing the distinct characters. For example, while one character (the villain) is holding up a bank, another character (the good guy) is driving toward the holdup and back again. Each chapter can hold ten scenes.
  2. The best way to think about each scene is to think about a regular day in your own life. For instance, pretend you ‘re writing a book on Ten days in my life. Start with day one. Each day is a chapter. Mark each chapter a day of the week. Begin on Monday and finish with Wednesday the following week. So now you have the chapters labelled so you know what will be in each chapter.
  3. Now divide each day into ten scenes. This should be easy.
      • You start with your bedroom where you wake up. Have you ever seen a movie which begins at the time the alarm clock rings to wake the sleepy guy/gal from their deep slumber?
      • Then you move into the kitchen for coffee after you are fully dressed.
      • The phone rings. You gulp your coffee down and leave in a hurry.
      • You are now in the car travelling along to work.
      • You arrive at work where the meeting you are late for is halfway over.
      • You have lunch in a fancy restaurant for a meeting with another client.
      • Lunch is over, and you are back in the office.
      • Your workday is over and you’re back in the car.
      • Finally, you are at home having dinner with the family.
      • End of day back in the bedroom, you collapse into bed grateful for the beckoning of sleep.
      • Next day – new chapter another ten scenes.
  4. Now that you have ten chapters and ten scenes in each chapter, you want to think about your characters. If you are like me, you sometimes forget the names you give to your characters. Here you are drafting a book about ten days in your life, so we take the character names from real life so it shouldn’t be difficult. However, you don’t want to publish their names for real; you want to have make believe names instead. So, you may need to jot down the character’s names separately. Start with your name, the names of your family and those you write about from work, including your clients and colleagues. Add some description to their names, jotting down personality traits, colour of their hair, male female, etc.
  5. Location – since this story is about your life, you already know the location. However, if you want to fictionalise it, you’ll need to produce some clever camouflaging so those close to you don’t know where you are talking about. Changing the colour, make and model of your car, the place of your work, from a multi-story building in the centre of the city to a small two-story building in the burbs… you get the idea.
  6. If you want to fictionalise this, you’re going to need to add some more conflict. Conflict drives the story. It thrives on conflict. it requires conflict in each scene. You want people to read your book, so it’s got to have something to hold your reader’s attention. So now you need to go back to your scenes and add some conflict to each scene. Don’t forget that it must move the story along, so you don’t want each scene to end up as a mini story unto itself. With each chapter, think about the conflict you want to put into each scene. What is the purpose of each chapter/day?
      • I’ll let you in on something that happened to me during lockdown recently. My washing machine suddenly spat the dummy. Rather than get it fixed, which I couldn’t because of Covid, I purchased a new one.
      • First,. the bank messed up my finances, so I had to ring and talk to a real human. This took time 0 over an hour at each phone call. Finally, I got it straightened out.
      • Secondly, My internet connection also spat the dummy and I had to get a repairman to get that fixed.
      • Third, my air conditioning stopped working, and I was freezing cold. It would be three days before someone could come and fix it.
      • So, I went through five sources to purchase my new washing machine, trying to decide on a front loader or top loader and whether to purchase a known brand which may be more reliable or just go with the throwaway mentality and buy a cheap unknown brand.
      • Finally, I decided on the one I wanted. A little more expensive than I had intended to spend, but it would be worth it as a recognised brand. The company promised to deliver, unpack, and set up and take away my old machine at no extra cost. Great! How wonderful is that! What could possibly go wrong now?
      • So the next day, true to their word, they delivered it. I had the old one disconnected and ready for them to take it away. However, halfway down the driveway the delivery man said, “you do realise we can only drop this at your back door?” You could have knocked me over with a feather “No,” I said “why?” “Because of the lockdown in your LGA (Local Government Area) we are not allowed into your home, not even the laundry so we cannot take the old one away either unless it is at your back door – outside it” So I retorted “Take it back then and give me a refund” That’s what could and did go wrong.
        You can see how a short book, or novella could be a light comedy of errors when you put incidental things in it and work around it to ask – what if it went further. Many a comedian uses these types of errors in life to their advantage.
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