Alexander R Davis
The Outlining of a Masterpiece
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
So you want to write a book, part 6
Would you agree to running a race that you know nothing about? Imagine agreeing to that race, not knowing how long it is, what the terrain will be like, or even the type of weather you are participating in. That doesn’t seem like a wise request to take on. In like manner, writing a book without having some direction, or in other words an outline, is just as fool hearty as running a race you know nothing about. If you have no outline, you cannot plan the direction of the book and you will miss out on so many opportunities to weave in intricate and engaging content. Without this planning for your book, it will be much more difficult to get the readers hooked and wanting what comes next. You can’t drop any hints about future events to build curiosity, when you yourself don’t know what is coming. All in all, writing without first planning the direction you are heading, is not a wise move. An outline is simply a must. The purpose of this article, is to help you with the important process of outlining. Now that we have noted the vital importance of outlining, let’s discuss what an outline is and the outlining process..
What Is Outlining:
Outlining in its most simplistic form, a summary of your book. Just like you tell someone the details of your day, you don’t take 8 hours to tell someone about how your 8 hours at work went. You give them the highpoints and low points. You tell them about the events that were important, or that stuck out, not every single little detail. Just like telling someone about your day, your outline is a map of those most important events. However, unlike telling someone a story, you can’t be too detailed with your book outline. In fact, the more detailed you are, the better. With that in mind, let’s think of your outline as a blueprint. And of course, as with all blueprints, the more precise the design and planning, the more spectacular the outcome. If you made a blueprint for a house and only finished half of it, or were too general, you would be in trouble. With a book it is no different. You may want to say “I’ll just go for it”, or “I know where I want the book to go,” but to be straightforward, that is a dangerous way of thinking. If you don’t want to settle for mediocrity, then you need to do everything in your power to make your book all that it can be. Outlining will help you reach your masterpieces potential.
The Outlining Process:
1. Your Book’s Purpose
-Is it to teach, or entertain?
-What are you teaching and to whom? Is it educational? Is it about morals? Is it self-development? etc.
-How are you trying to entertain and who are you trying to entertain? Is it through jokes, through embarrassing situations, through imaginative landscapes and creatures, through action, etc.
-How are you trying to teach and who are you trying to teach? Is it through stories and parables, analogies, checklists, lectures, etc.
-Write down every single little event and idea that comes to you for this book. At this point you will do this without a filter. Even if you aren’t entirely sure that the idea or event will be a part of the book, that’s fine. Just get everything out of your head and down where you can see them.
-Places that will be depicted. (Landscape, a house, a forest, caves, castles, a public speaking stage, a town square, an office building, an individual office, etc.).
-Dialogue that is important. (Conversations or lectures. Stories or histories and anything else shared between characters).
-The beginning and end of the book. (These truly are some of the most important parts. If you have a starting point and an ending point it is much easier to fill in what is in between).
-Characters. (Describe how they dress and what they look like. Describe how they will interact with other characters. Describe their personalities and some of the important choices they will have to make throughout the book).
-Action. (Fights, chases, escapes, and any other exciting scenes you would like to add. It doesn’t have to be drastic like a battle to fall under this category. Truth be told, action is anything someone does, including walking down the street. Typically, however, I would just brainstorm exciting actions that will transpire, rather than the mundane).
3. Choosing the Main Ideas
Once you have your brainstorming session and write out all those ideas, now you are going to look at each idea and rate each them. On a scale of 1-10, rate out much you want each idea to be involved in the book. (You can have multiples of the same number, two tens, four fives, ect.). After you rate each of your ideas, then immediately eliminate anything that is between 1-6. So, you will be left with only the ideas between 7-10. This is exactly what we want, because not only will these be the ones you feel most confident in, but they are the most exciting to you as well. In writing, excitement is very important. If you don’t enjoy what you are writing, it will most often lack the quality of a masterpiece. (You will definitely add more ideas to your 7-10s, as you press forward in writing your book and that is fine).
4. Organizing Your Ideas
Sticky Noting: For each idea you have, write it down on a sticky note and have a big white board, or other area you can put those sticky notes. This way, you see all the ideas right there in front of you. In the beginning, you may not be entirely sure of the order you want these events to happen, so sticky noting is great, because you can rearrange them as you like. another thing you could do is instead of trying to arrange the sticky notes in order you want them to happen you can simply pick the next one you want to pursue. So, as you are writing and finish one idea, you look up and simply pick the next one you feel like writing about.
Chapter Structuring: With this strategy, you can be more organized and decide before you even start writing, what will be in chapter one, chapter two and so on. This way will be more detailed than something like sticky noting, and you will be able to weave in more intricate details because you know the exact order in which events will transpire. For example, you can foreshadow things in chapter two that will happen in chapter eight. So, chapter structuring can be very useful, especially for longer books or book series.
5. Examples (These are brief examples. You could be much more detailed, particularly with the chapter structuring):
Sticky note #1: The main character has to forgive someone for killing their brother.
Sticky note #2: There is going to be a big fight between the main character and the one he loves.
Sticky note #3: The main character is going to fall in love.
Sticky note #4: The person that the main character falls in love with, has a strong aversion to being involved with people. When that starts to change, is when she gets saved from a thug by the main character.
Sticky note #5: The main character loses all that he owns in a fire and is homeless for a time because there are some people who he angered.
Sticky note #6: It’s going to begin with an exciting scene of the main character fighting a thug to protect a woman, but just before the fight comes to a conclusion, or maybe when he is knocked down and before he gets back up, it jumps to him at work. That way people will want to keep reading to find out what is going on and if that fight was just his imagination or something else.
Sticky note #7: There is a part where the main character gets a note from a friend telling him he is in danger and has angered the wrong people. He ignores it, thinking that no one has any reason to come after him.
Sticky note #8: The main character will be a fast food manager.
Sticky note #9: The main character lives in New York.
Sticky note #10: In the end, he is going to realize exactly how important forgiveness is and decides to forgive a man who isn’t even sorry, despite the man’s uncaring nature and the disapproval of the woman he has come to love. He recognizes that holding onto the pain and the anger is doing nothing but hurting him.
Starting off the book, the main character is in the middle of a fight with a thug, because he is trying to protect a woman from the thug. Before the fight is finished, the main character is thrown to the ground. At that moment it flashes back to the present time, (this scene being a preview of a later scene in the book).
We find out that the main character works in a fast food restaurant, as a manager and lives in New York.
He has a fight with a customer, then goes home in a bad mood.
That night when he falls asleep. He has a dream about an experience he had in the past. He saw someone murdered in an alleyway, but was too afraid to do anything and just ran away.
Blocking out his strange dream, or memory rather, he goes to work and upon getting there he bumps into a woman he who he has fallen for. She works with him, but is very cold when it comes to relationships, for a reason that she will not disclose.
Throughout the day he forgets about the memory that he dreamt about, but just as he leaves work, a friend drives up and waves him over. They speak for a minute, then the man gives the main character a note and takes his leave.
Reading the note, the main character thinks his friend is just trying to play a trick on him. It warns him that he is in danger and there are some bad people with their eye on him. There is no reason he would have people after him. He is only a restaurant manager, not some rich or important person.
The main character’s car won’t start after work, but it’s dark and all the car shops are closed for the day, so he decided to walk home. On the way, he passes an alleyway and sees almost a repeat of his dream that comes flooding back to him then. The only difference this time is that the thug is harassing the woman he has fallen for at work.
The main character jumps into action and fights the thug. He is thoroughly thrashed, but it would likely been much worse than a beating if not for a police car driving by and scaring off the attacker.
Because of his actions, the woman changes her toon, unlike her usual colder manner she is actually kind to him. Seeing as they are both walking, he walks her the rest of the way home before heading home himself and checking to see just how bad his injuries are. He isn’t too injured luckily, just a bunch of bruises.
The main character goes to work and gets his car into the shop. While he is at work the woman he saved, is a lot more friendly to him, which he is ecstatic about.
When he gets home his house is burnt to the ground, firemen and police officers swarming the area.
Someone slips a note into his pocket, though he doesn’t see who does it and the note tells him that the ones responsibly are looking forward to finishing the job.
The main character shows the note to the police and he is taken into custody, for his own protection.
Etc. Until you outline each chapter and the order in which the plot will unfold.
Whether you choose to do the more flexible sticky noting, or the more detailed chapter structuring, that is up to you. In either case, however, you need to do some kind of outlining. Sure, you could write something that is pretty good without an outline, I understand that. There is such a thing as flow and intuition, however, having an outline will only enhance your ability to make your book into a true masterpiece. So, the questions to ask is whether you want a good book or a masterpiece.
Alexander R Davis