Part five of my How To series, today I’m focusing on outlining. I know, I know, for many of you this is a bad word. “Pfft, outlining?! What madness is this?!” To which I say, “I’ve said the exact same thing – now I know better.”
First, let me give you a quick list of reasons why you should use an outline. Ready? Here we go.
Yep, that was it. One reason. Because it covers everything. How do I know where I am in my story? Check your outline. What was that one character’s name? And what did they look like? Check your outline. What was this rule in the world I just created from scratch? You guessed, it check your outline.
I know it’s like everyone’s least favorite thing to do, but it gives you so much in return for so very little. Yes, you have to put a little time and forethought into your novel before you get to the fun stuff. Yes, it means you have to work out the specifics of the new world you just created. Yes, it means you have to actually figure out, beginning to end what’s going to happen in your story.
And yes, I know, it’s a lot of work.
But I’m also telling you that it is worth it and will save you so much pain and agony later on…
As a ghostwriter, I get a couple of different kinds of contracts. I tend to get either the “with an outline” or “without an outline” contract. And one is much more preferable than the other. Why? Because of how much work I do or don’t have to put in. When a client provides me with an outline they are doing a couple of things for me. They’re telling me what they want in the story. Specifically. They’re telling me how they want it to end, and not just HEA. And they’re telling me who they want in it, how many chapters they want (~), and what people look like. If they don’t give me an outline, a lot of the time I have to do all of this myself. Which means I have to do more work, often for the same pay. Why? Because this *is* work and no one wants to do it – but they don’t want to pay me for it either. Not fair, right?
But all of that aside, you might see why having an outline makes my job as a writer so much easier. And that means it makes your job as a writer and author easier, too.
So, hopefully I’ve convinced you this is useful. But what do you include in your outline then? How should it be formatted (and does formatting even matter)? Let’s break it down.
I’m going to give you guys my Super Secret Outline Template, because I love you guys so much. This is what I prefer to get from my clients and what I use for my own writing. The more complete it is, the easier of a time you will have actually writing – and finishing – your novel. If you want, look at this as your first draft.
E.C.’s Super Secret Outline Template
OUTLINE – (title)
(This should include age/description/basic background info)
(However many you have)
(however many you want to include or need to keep track of in your story)
(This is a brief summary of everything going on. Don’t worry about being too inclusive or specific – we’ll do that in the chapter breakdown section)
(Where does this take place? Include time period and if you’d like you can give a brief description of the setting.)
(Each chapter should be a summary of what happens within that chapter. This is where you get very detailed. You should list main events, run ins with other characters, and emotions that characters are feeling based on events/other characters. Be specific, but keep in mind that each chapter is a mini summary, not the actual written portion of your novel – yet.)
(include additional chapters as necessary; this should be from start to finish of your novel)
(This can be a section for notes, world building, relationship arcs, etc. Whatever you need to keep straight, include here)
That doesn’t look so bad, does it? Of course not! You can totally do it! And I’m even going to give you a Jill Example to boot! I’ll fill out the above template using Jill the Changeling’s story.
OUTLINE – The Changeling
Jillian MacKillevrey: Sixteen. Dark brown hair, long and wavy. Freckles. Green eyes that shift to golden when her fae side comes out. Goes by Jill and very rarely allows someone to call her Jillie-Bean. Not particularly close with her parents who are hard workers and a little oblivious to their daughter. Not overly involved. She’s a little selfish, somewhat vain, but has a good heart and is extremely loyal. Switched at birth for the “real” Jill, she’s a Changeling.
Julianna Heatherthorn: Sixteen. Could be Jill’s twin. Long, dark hair. Green eyes. Freckles. But there’s a coldness about her, a paleness as though she is already dead or dying. As a child went by Jules, but now that she’s grown and gunning for the crown of the Faerie Realm, she goes only by Lady Julianna. She’s manipulative and cruel, her soul having disintegrated to save Faerie. Unwilling to return to the human world, Julianna wants to rule all of Faerie – and she’ll kill her Fae counterpart to do it.
Merrick Abernathy: Eighteen. Sandy blonde hair to his shoulders, hazel eyes. Wide smile and shoulders. Tall. The human boy that finally pushes Adrian over the edge. He comes in and makes Jill feel things she’s never felt before. He seems like the thing she’s looking for. He’s sweet and very normal, but charismatic and fun. Almost to the point of being boring, but there’s no denying that he’s safe.
Lord Kane: Between nineteen and twenty-one. Black hair, pale green eyes. Perpetual frown. Strong, but lean like a runner. Betrothed to the next High Queen of Faerie, he’s never met his would-be queen and expects very little of her as she’s been living as a mortal for a long time now.
Adrian: Seventeen. A spy sent to watch Jill from a young age, he was initially hired by Jill’s Fae mother. But when her mother grew tired of her and focused on Julianna instead, Adrian was left in the human world. Until he met Julianna who turned him against Jill. He is still partly in love with Jill, but since her rejection, he’s grown hard and angry.
N/A (For right now)
Jill is out walking through the woods, angry because Adrian bailed on her. She comes out at the park with the fountain in an effort to reach her house quickly, but stops when she sees what looks like two floating people and a dead body. They spot her, then disappear. Jill’s left with a body to contend with.
The next few days are filled with police interrogations – and Jill arguing with her parents about what she saw. Swears now it was faeries. Jill’s mother insists she see a psychiatrist. Jill ditches that and tries to convince Adrian. He uncomfortably refuses to believe her. They fight and she refuses to speak with him.
Jill spends her time doing her own detective work by researching faeries. Learns a little about changelings, but doesn’t put it together yet. Wonders if the body was a changeling. Goes to the funeral and sees the two faeries there. Chases after them. One tells her to come home, then they disappear again in the woods.
Jill spends more time researching in the library and runs into new boy Merrick. Isn’t willing to admit to love at first sight, but he’s sexy. He starts asking to hang out. She would say no, but then sees Adrian and is still mad. Agrees to show him around.
They hang out, she gives him the tour of both school and town. They talk about why he moved here, where she wants to go, why she’s hellbent on leaving. “I just feel like this place isn’t really home sometimes.”
They grow closer. Jill opens up about her faerie research. Thinks he’ll think she’s crazy, but instead tells her that it’s important to follow your instincts. They end up kissing.
Jill runs into the faeries again. They tell her it’s time to come home. She doesn’t understand. The faeries are suddenly killed by other faeries. Jill freaks out when evil faeries try to kill her. She’s saved by sexy Lord Kane. Kane tries to take her back with him, but she fights him and gets away.
Later with Merrick, she doesn’t tell him but asks to stay the night – no sex. She dreams of Kane, who tells her that she can’t run away from destiny. Next day, she skips school and goes back to where she first saw the faeries. Kane is there. He tells her about herself and says that he needs her. She’s confused. Someone stumbles upon them, he whispers to her not to trust the mortals. She doesn’t understand, he disappears, Adrian shows up.
Eventually Adrian tries to kill her, but apologizes before he makes himself do it. Says he’s always loved her – but Julianna is the only one who ever loved him. Julianna appears, kills him, is about to kill Jill herself, but then Kane appears and saves her. He promises not to leave her this time.
Kane comes to regular school in human disguise. Merrick doesn’t like how friendly he is with Jill. Jill realizes she has a choice to make.
Corn Grove, small town, New England feel to it. Includes a park with a fountain, woods surrounding it, and a river winding through it.
(I’m not going to go through the whole thing, but I’ll give you the first few as examples.)
16 year old Jill fumes at her best friend Adrian. What business did he have bailing on her? After all, they’re two peas in a pod over the whole friendless thing. She cuts through the woods, stomping angrily, only to come upon the fountain at Corn Grove Park where two wildly and strangely beautiful people hover a foot off the ground over a dead body. A body of someone she recognizes – Parker, her lab partner and all around asshole. She must make a sound, because they turn at look at her. She blinks and they aren’t floating and they’re just regular kids from school. Except she’s never seen them before. They run off and Jill runs home. She tells her mom. They call the police.
Jill gets ready for school – the first day back after a three day reprieve thanks to Parker’s death. She heads out, but her mother argues with her about seeing a psychiatrist. Jill swears she isn’t crazy. Her mother says that people don’t fly. Jill says nothing, but leaves angrily. At school, she meets up with Adrian who seems nervous. She says it’s crazy about Parker, he distantly agrees. She asks what’s up with him. He says nothing. She lets it go so she can talk about her own stuff. Tells him about the floating people. He laughs and says there’s no such thing as faeries. She thinks this is weird, she didn’t say faeries, but takes offense. Yells at him, then storms off. Decides to look up Faeries.
Still arguing with Adrian, Jill is in the library. She’s searching for stuff on Faeries. Finds several books to check out. At the desk, while checking them out, two men in suits come to talk to her. Detectives. She asks about parental permission. They have it. She tells them what she saw – but leaves out the floating people. They ask if she recognized the two kids. She says no. Asks if she got along with Parker. Frowns, but admits no. They make notes and she realizes she’s a suspect. Gets mad, but they say they’re done. One of the two notices her reading material and comments. Then they leave. Jill is frazzled, wants to talk to Adrian, but remembers they’re fighting.
At home, Jill reads about faeries and comes across “changeling.” Learns about how Faeries steal mortals away as babies and leave changelings in their place. It freaks her out, but she finds herself wondering if Parker was maybe a changeling. It would make sense because he was so unlikable. Then she wonders if she isn’t really going crazy. Her mom knocks on the door and tells her that she’s worried. Insists she goes to a psychiatrist. Jill is mad, but ultimately agrees if only to get her mother to see that she’s not nuts. Jill falls asleep and dreams of a “mirror” Jill who is a changeling.
After her psychiatrist meeting (which involved a lot of silently angry Jill and a lot of her doctor checking her clock), Jill goes to the library under the pretense of “school project.” Her mother allows it, but not alone. Jill lies and says she’s meeting Adrian. Jill is perusing the stacks and finds more Faerie books. Can’t quite reach one, so Merrick, new sexy boy, gets it for her. Informs her she’s new. She’s snarky in return. He laughs and follows her to a table. She tries to move again, he follows her. Finally, when Jill spots Adrian at another table, she lets Merrick sit with her. They do introductions and Jill agrees to be his tour guide at school and maybe of the town, too, but only to prove to Adrian that she doesn’t need him. Admits to herself that Merrick is sexy, but isn’t about to fall head over heels for him – she thinks.
(I’m only including the first five chapters because… well, this takes a while!)
- The need to switch a Changeling with a mortal comes only once every… 1000 years? 2000? When it happens, it’s to replenish the Faerie Realm. But if the Changeling isn’t returned, the mortal’s soul will rot and she will become evil. If she is left to rule, then she will cause everything to wither away and die.
- Julianna realized they were going to switch them back, but it’s too late. She wants the crown and the power. So she’s trying to kill her Fae counterpart to keep it.
- Jill’s Fae mother has grown attached to Julianna and waited too long. That’s why Julianna is corrupted
- Corn Grove is a natural link to the Faerie Realm.
And there you have it! A quick look at what a semi-completed outline might look like! This is only a template and what I like to include, but I’m always adding to it! Sometimes I have a list of main events or a timeline or I have a “background history” section to explain what happened before the present day events. Include whatever helps you write your story, because that’s the whole point of this. And if you can fill this all out, you can go to write your novel and not have to worry about where you are in your story, what connects with what, and who the hell your characters are.
Also, a quick recommendation: After you finish your outline, take a break. Walk away from it and your project for a little while, then come back when you haven’t been staring at it for forever. That way, you won’t be sick of what you’re seeing and writing will be exciting again!
I hope this helps out and if you guys have comments, suggestions, questions, or your own tips, please comment below! Next post is going to be Keeping Track, how to remember where you are, where you’ve been, and where the heck you’re going. Hope to see you then!