Two NOT Blurred (Out)lines

I have talked about how important it is to outline BEFORE you write. Well, I am now going to recommend that you outline AFTER you write (and also after you read a book). 

I know you are probably looking at me the way that lady did after she caught Hugh Grant dancing to "Jump" in Love Actually. You are probably thinking: "Isn't that a little late in the game? Why should I outline after I write? What does that buy me?" 

It buys you a lot actually. Even more than a sale at Anthropologie (because we know all you can buy is one shirt because it is still $100 at 50%). Sure, it won't prevent you from creating any problems in your manuscript, but it will help you catch them (like really annoying Pokemon). 

This is how you do it. You look at your finished manuscript and write down each chapter title on a piece of paper. Be sure to leave plenty of blank space between chapters. You will need it, not to write your lovers' names a la Taylor Swift, but to write down scenes.

As you read through your manuscript, you will write a brief bullet for every scene. Once you are done this, you will want to review your outline and ask yourself a few questions.

  • Is this scene important? How does it develop the plot or character?
  • Do all the scenes flow together in a logical order? Do scenes or chapters need to be rearranged? 
  • Are all the scenes necessary? Are there scenes/chapters I can cut? 
  • What is missing? What do I need to add?

You have to be as ruthless as Miss Trunchbull was to Matilda. Take no prisoners. Don't be afraid to cut whole chapters or rearrange your book. You may want to cry as much as a top model contestant who has to get a haircut, but it will ultimately make your book better.

You are probably wondering what the second outline is. This one is not for your book, but it is for another author's. As in, J.K. Rowling or John Green or Meg Cabot. As you read your favorite writers' books, outline them. When you are done, look it over. It will help you understand why you adore their books so much. You will realize why you couldn't put down The Hunger Games after you examine its pacing and narrative structure by outlining it. 

This works equally well for books you dislike. You can figure out what you hate about it. Maybe the pacing is wrong. Or the scenes are in the wrong order. 

It is not enough just to create an outline for other books and realize the wins or losses in them. You have to apply the same lessons to your writing. Love where the climax was placed in Six of Crows? Put it in a similar place in your book!

Struggling with outlines? Book a Novel(ty) Day with me!

P.S. I am honored to be part of Positive Writer's Best Writing Blogs. Thank you all for your support!