It may have come up in the past that I’m an outliner. A plotter, I believe is the common term for it. I love to plan out my novels in advance as much as I can/need to, in order to be able to play with the story and solve potential problems before writing a whole book that it turns out I did wrong and therefore need to scrap the whole thing and start from scratch – trust me, it happens.
But it happens less so with an outline. I’m flexible; I don’t expect all my future novels to have the same insane level of detailed outlining as the two novels I have outlined so far, but even if I only want to do a light outlining before the first draft – and maybe a heavier outlining between the first and the second draft to give it a polish – there is a few key thing I’ll always do before I start to write the novel, and I thought I’d share these basics of with you all, in case any of you have use for an easy outlining method!
My method is based on Rachael Stephen‘s original method that she talked about on her YouTube channel before she came up with her Plot Embryo stuff. The plot embryo is brilliant, but it never really worked for me. Her original “How To Build A Novel” approach to outlining, however, worked wonders on my brain and my writing. If you have the chance, find her videos on this and maybe even invest in the printable booklet she made – it’s good stuff. I won’t go too much into how she did this vs. what I do, so I’ll just jump right in, but know that everything I say here is inspired by and based on Rachael Stephen, and all credit goes to her.
So. Whether I’m doing a massively detailed outline or just a basic one, the one thing I will always do before sitting down to write a story, is try to figure out Motive – What do my characters Want and Why do they Want it? Rachael calls it Desire and Stakes, but those terms don’t really make my brain come up with the right answer, I wasn’t able to phrase my questions correctly. Now I’ve found a way to phrase a few motive questions that I use for all of my main characters and antagonists:
- What does the character want in life?
- What is the character’s greatest fear in life?
- What does the character want in the story?
- What is the character’s greatest fear in the story?
By answering these questions in two different ways, I get to explore the character’s backstory as well as who they are in the novel. I encourage that you answer these questions thoroughly, and there doesn’t need to be just one answer for each question.
Rachael always says that the brain responds better to certain words. Desire and Stakes never worked for me, but Want and Fear do, and adding the phrase in life and in the story help me separate who the character is before the beginning of the novel and who they are during it.
You should do the same; find the words and phrases that work for you, that make your brain start spinning to answer these questions. The most important thing is to figure out what your characters want, because if your character doesn’t want anything, if they don’t have motive, then they are just a blank canvas. It’s hard to get invested in a character without a need, and it’s hard to figure out what your character would do in any given situation if you don’t know their underlying desire. The more you know about what your character wants and fears, the easier it will be to write their story in a consistent way.
Wow, I really hope this made sense, because this method has helped me so much and I just want to pass it along to other writers who might need it.
There you go. If you want to outline, but find the whole concept a little too daunting and you’re not sure where to start, I recommend you start here. And definitely find Rachael Stephen on YouTube and check out her original material. This is her old method that I’m not sure she uses at all anymore, but it’s buried in her channel somewhere and it works better for me than her new method, so I’m still loyal to it ❤
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a novel to write. That’s right – I’m writing again.