Whether you’re a pantser or a pedantic outliner (I’m somewhat of an in-betweener), I believe that having an overall snapshot of your story raises its potential quality and lessens the time it takes to write it.
Here is the process I am currently following to outline my post apocalyptic novel, The Land Below.
I start by writing down my story’s premise. The story premise is a sentence, sometimes referred to as the logline by screenwriters, which captures the essence of your story—what is unique, but believable about it, highlights its major twists and turns, and ties the inner and outer journeys together, in part, through the knot of the moral premise, or theme.
I next tackle the outer journey. This is the what and how of your story. It defines the goal that the protagonist strives to gain by the end of the story. The goal, determined at the first turning point, is then kicked around by the midpoint and the second turning point, and is attained, or not, at the end of the final, must-have confrontation with the antagonist. Here I ensure that I have three or four major incidents in mind, including the inciting incident.
The inner journey, by contrast, is why the outer journey happens the way it does. It tries to explain the protagonist’s mental and emotional states and the decisions he takes that lead to the actions at the level of the outer journey. It also shows how and why the character changes during the story. It is a blow by blow explanation, of, at least, the turning points and the midpoint. It forces the writer to consider the reasons why the protagonist acts in the way that he does. I ensure that I have written a paragraph or two on the inner journey prior to starting the actual writing of my story.
The theme/ending: In the words of Lagos Egri, “The ending proves the theme.” Is your protagonist a good guy who manages to overcome the antagonist and save the world and win the heart of the girl he loves? If so, your theme may well be: Good guys carry the day. I always know the theme of my story before I begin to write it.
Lastly, I make sure I know who the main characters of my story will be. Each will represent a point of view and will drive the plot forward. A protagonist? Certainly. An antagonist? Check. A love interest? Yes. A mentor? A sidekick? I think of my characters in terms of the function they have to perform in the overall story argument. The details, the flesh and blood stuff, I build, from a series of traits and incidents, as I go along…
…so, while on the subject, back to outlining The Land Below!
The story premise, as well as the outer and inner journeys, the theme and ending, and cast of characters, are important elements to consider prior to commencing the writing your story.
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Image: Jo Guldi