In with Outlines

There are plenty of times when I wish I would have taken a few (or any) creative writing classes in college. Instead, I majored in Recreation and minored in Communication. Oh well. At least I learned how to juggle and can knowledgeably speak about the oligarchy that is mainstream media. Still, it would be nice to have some tools with which to craft my writing ideas into readable books.

Chalk_Outline_LIFE_May_18_1953

Not this type of outline.

That said, I’m probably reinventing square wheels here, but I’ve developed a system for outlining my YA fantasy series that has proven helpful to me. Maybe it could help you too.

“But Josh,” you say. “I’m not a writer and I have no interest in becoming one.”

Fine. Don’t better yourself. That just means less competition in the slush pile. But seriously, even if you aren’t a writer, maybe the process will prove useful.

My 4 Step Outline Process:

  1. What is the problem that your character must overcome?
  2. What is the best way to solve the problem?
  3. What are the consequences of failing to solve the problem?
  4. What things will make solving the problem difficult?

Here’s an example from my book.

What is the problem that your character must overcome?
Daniel O’Ryan needs to find the Garden of Eden.

What is the best way to solve the problem?
Shamsiel, former Eden guardian, knows where to find it.

What are the consequences of failing to solve the problem?
Daniel won’t be able to get the fruit from the Tree of Life.

What things will make solving the problem difficult?
Shamsiel is reclusive and will only give the information needed if beaten in a duel.

“Okay,” you say. “That may be helpful in figuring out your plot lines, but how does it apply to real life?”

Here’s how to use this in real life.

What is the problem that you must overcome?
I need to wake up in time for work in the morning.

What is the best way to solve the problem?
Set an alarm clock.

What are the consequences of failing to solve the problem?
Getting to work late, losing my job, dying homeless and lonely.

What things will make solving the problem difficult?
Waking up is hard.

But that leaves out the important fifth step, doesn’t it? Indeed, it does.

The hidden fifth step is the novel solution that assures that the problem gets solved. In the case of waking up, perhaps the simple solution of setting an alarm clock needs to be made more effective by placing the alarm clock across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off.

The fifth step in the example from my novel is the part that I still need to write. But just being able to identify the problems that we face is helpful toward solving them. Problems tend to lose their power when we can name them and try to solve them individually. It is important to know the consequences of failure, but it is the fifth step (the novel solution) that should be the focus.

May your weekend be full of novel solutions to simple problems!

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2 responses to “In with Outlines

  1. That fifth step is what makes writing so wonderful and difficult and satisfying and transformative. 🙂 As for the alarm clock, you know they make flying alarm clocks that you have to chase around and catch before they’ll turn off, right? Unless, of course, you just pull the plug…

    • There’s a reason that the alarm clock is on my wife’s side of the bed. I’ve perfected the art of sleep-snoozing, but she has yet to master it. Of course, I’ve discovered that the cries of children over our monitor system is even more effective than our alarm. Someday they will learn the value of sleep. Someday.

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