I wasn’t much of an outliner in school. Any required outlines were made after the paper was written. It felt a lot like “showing your work” in math – something else I wasn’t a big fan of. I never understood why the right answer wasn’t enough for them.
Working on projects longer than three pages, and multiple projects at a time, I find outlines indispensable and I go through many of them before I start on a title now.
My first outline is very broad. I know where I want things to start. I kind of know how I want things to end. In the middle, there are usually several scenes I want to have play out. That’s it. Very broad indeed.
The second outline fills in the spaces between the scenes. It connects everything and usually helps strengthen the ending of the story. After this outline, almost all of my chapters are defined.
The third outline fills in the detail of each chapter. Again it’s very loose. I’ll list out what needs to be accomplished in each chapter to keep the story and characters developing and the story moving forward. I’ll also include any ideas for dialogue that I may want to play with and, since I write comedic books, any jokes that might arise from the situation.
By the end of this outline, the ending of the story is all but decided.
Then I start writing.
I used to fear an outline robbing me of any creativity. But with this method I’m still free to play around. If things change for the better it can always be altered.
I’m a huge fan of This Is Spinal Tap because it’s awesome and you should be too. This is pretty much how that masterpiece came together. A list of scenes and what needed to be conveyed. Everything else was improvised and it really worked for them.
I no longer fear the outline. I live by them. And they’ve made my work much, much stronger.