I’ve been writing for around twenty years. That sounds like a long time but half of that time was spent writing just because I loved doing it, not because it was a career choice. I believed that writing just flowed naturally without effort. The muse, if you will, which we have discussed in the past. Outlines, by default, were evil. In fact, I thought they killed the creativity in a story because it gave a very rigid way to write. In the last year or so, my mind has since been changed.
Writing a story is like constructing a body or anything at all. There needs to be a structure to it or it will crash to the ground. A structure, or a skeletal system, gives you guidance on where to apply the meat of the project. You can create that skeletal system however you want, but it should be there. Some people (pantsers) can do it all in their mind but there are some who cannot. They start a story and then they never finish it because they don’t remember where they were going with it. They need the structure.
As far as planning out your story, the Act Structure is the easiest. It divides up the story into that wonderful chart we all remember from high school English class. The slow rise to the pinnacle before the rather quick descent to the end of the story. It gives you a beautiful skeletal system to work with.
I will usually work within the realms of the Three Act Structure, because it seems to be the best fit for what I’m usually writing. In this structure you have three blocks to work in that gives a purpose for each one.
- Resolution (quick descent)
There are two ways to look into these blocks. The first is to determine what you want to happen in the Introduction and how to space it up. Write this down. It’s like writing a goal you’re trying to achieve; if you write it down you’re more likely to achieve it. So split that introduction up into a series of chapters or episodes to fulfill that block’s purpose.
One of the issues I began dealing with in trying to outline my work is that I never knew how to split up the chapters. I struggle with chapter length, even though it really doesn’t matter, and deciding when to end a chapter. Perhaps the best discovery I’ve had is reading the episode description of a Netflix show.
I saw that each episode built upon each other and would work towards a larger goal, that is the season finale. With this in mind, I set to work outlining and saw that if I took each chapter like an episode, I built the story better. It even helped outlining because I just did a quick description of the episode or “chapter”. It was what I wanted to do or say in the chapter and that was that. Length be damned.
Through this, I was able to add muscle to the structure that would give the story the ability to move. These muscles require to be worked and added to, since the muscles of a human body are connected. The chapters/scenes must be connected as well.
In preparing for your story you’ve no doubt done countless hours of research into what you’re writing, becoming an expert in something overnight. With the structure you have laid out, now is the chance for you to take it all and put it into the structure. Start laying the muscles onto the skeleton by writing out the overall structure, knowing where you’re going is huge in trying to write a story.
Writing your outline gives you the ability to make it known what your story is about and where you’re taking it. One of the biggest reasons people fail to write or finish their story is because they lose that vision of their story and don’t know how to put it all together. I think that opens up the conversation about building the story and getting people to finish the story they started.
Your story must be important to you. If it is not, then it cannot be important to the reader. In its infancy, your story is vulnerable and will crumble. By outlining and giving it a structure, you strengthen it and will continue to do so the more you build it up.
I believe that you should plan silently and write loudly. By the time you start writing you have a destination you’re writing towards and will end there at a much quicker pace than before. So get that pen/pencil or computer ready and start jotting out your outline. In future articles I plan to go into further detail on structuring, so stay tuned!