O – Outlining Your Story: Authors’ Tips A to Z of Writing
Dear readers and writers,
I have been guilty of not writing on this forum for a very long time. So was determined to write on this round’s alphabet ‘O’ under Authors’ Tips A to Z of Writing series.
In this series of ‘Authors’ Tips – A to Z of Writing‘, where eight of us – Devika Fernando, Preethi Venugopala, Paromita Goswami, Adite Banerjie, Reet Singh, Sudesna Ghosh, Saiswaroopa Iyer and I – post on various writing-related topics with the topic corresponding to the Alphabet of the Week. Complete list is at the end of this post.
On to the alphabet O…
Nothing could be better than writing on the topic ‘Outlining a story’, because with each of my novels I have learnt something new about the outlining process. I for one believe in outlining prior to the writing phase. The depth of the outline depends on genre and length of the story that I write. So let’s delve straight into the subject.
Any writer who says that he/she doesn’t outline their story is either lying or not aware of their thought process or are intuitive outliners.
Everyone has an outline.
Even if they have it in their mind, it is there. How well defined, structured and detailed it is, is a different matter altogether.
Authors who start writing with an idea in their mind call themselves pansters. But don’t let them fool you into thinking that they haven’t done their homework. In all probability, they will have a compelling idea, strong characters, and setting before they begin putting words on the paper. This cult of people have a remarkable memory, and high retention power, that shows in the final version of their story.
So let’s not cut corners and learn a bit about outlining a story.
Broadly, there are three elements which need to be explored and researched right at the beginning. These are; idea/ plot, characters, and setting. Let’s look at them in detail.
Idea/Plot – This is the backbone of a story. The seed of the tree which you are going to sow, water and grow. The initial idea could be unique or an already written trope. It’s the treatment that you give to it matters in the long run. The plot should keep the readers hooked throughout the journey of your characters.
How? Let’s see.
The story should open in the middle of action, or a para which intrigues the reader either about the character(s) or the plot. This is the first hook for the readers which gets them invested in the characters and their conflicts.
The next bang should come in between which takes the plot forward. There can be two or more mini-climactic scenes depending on the length of the novel/ story.
For complete reader satisfaction, the story should end in a life-changing climactic event, from which either the protagonist comes out unscathed or loses something dear; this depends on whether you want to end the story in a positive or negative note.
By the end of this step of outlining, the writer should have a clear idea about protagonist, situation, conflicts/ disaster, the opponents, and the closure.
Characters – In order to come up with rich and realistic characters one has to write complete biography for each one of them, along with their backstory. The proven technique to achieve this is to interview the characters. The key thing is to focus not only on the main protagonist but also on the antagonist. A smart and deadly the villain brings out the true potential of the hero.
Setting – Think of a setting which suits the story and your characters. This depends on the genre and time/ era of your plot. Explore the setting in terms of locales, weather, environment, language, and customs. Each of these elements, if used effectively, will paint a rich tapestry in the mind of your readers thereby giving them complete satisfaction/entertainment.
Having said all of the above, don’t think outlining traps your idea in a boundary or curbs creativity. It’s your framework which can be erased and redefined depending on how the characters and conflicts shape up during the writing process. Do not hesitate to change or revise in the interest of a compelling product.
So folks, plot your outline using all the elements and dazzle the readers.
All the very best!