Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Story Outlines

by Charlotte Firbank-King
A story outline should apply to anything one writes. My personal preference is to create a document called “Story Outline.” By all means, use a card filing system if that feels easier. Whatever method one uses, make sure it has all the character names, their traits, habits, hair color, eye color, occupation or other information and characteristics that define them.

Formatting: There are general rules to how one should format a manuscript. Find the one relevant to what one is writing and put that into the Story Outline file as well. It’s easy to forget when one gets carried away with writing.

Using the twenty-first century method—a PC—create a Story Outline document to make a chart of the things above, then incorporate a plot outline. When changes are made or forced, note these so that the plot can be remolded to fit. I say forced, because characters have a way of reinventing themselves as one writes. As the writer, one sometimes doesn’t like the character created and we change their role in the plot. Writers will understand this screwed logic. I think we’re all a bit touched in the head.

Research should go into a separate file. Either reference the book used with the relevant pages or the copied and pasted info from the internet or other sources. Be sure to put the link in or name the source so that one can go back to check validity if necessary.

As the author, one usually has the plot all sorted in one’s head. The reader isn’t privy to this head knowledge. What may seem quite clear to the author may not be so clear to a reader. A plot is all good and well in one’s head, but crafting it to read seamlessly and cohesively is a whole new challenge. Pay careful attention to which character is doing what. It’s dead easy to have the names, times, positions or places mixed, thereby confusing the hell out of a reader. A common error, as an example, is the character kneeling or seated in one scene and the next moment they are pacing or in a new place completely with no transition.

A mistake writers often make is having too much mystery and never leaving any clues. This can cause confusion and the reader is forced to remember too many things. Anyway, readers enjoy trying to figure out what is coming next. You score a hit when the outcome is a surprise.
Finally, use Beta readers. (These are non-professional people who like to read. They usually pick up character and plot flaws.) Then have the manuscript edited and proofread to ensure that it’s grammatically correct and makes sense—flows. If even one beta reader or editor says they don’t understand what one is trying to say, take note of the comments. Another method is to read aloud or into a recorder and play it back. It’s always possible the critiques are the dense ones, but not likely.

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