I was never much of an outliner.
Being the candy addled 10-year old that I was when I started writing, I wrote what felt right. I followed my heart and my imagination and let that take me wherever it wanted. This energy led to a lot of ideas but nothing that ever got finished.
I look back fondly on this era in my life. Oh, all the ideas I had. The confidence I had in committing every one of them to paper. But I also realize that a lot of them were (oh, how should I put this) really, really awful but still cute in their own way. And in those days, I dismissed outlining. I absolutely hated the idea of it because I viewed it as a constraint on stories. Getting bogged down in the details wasn’t really my thing then and I held onto this belief until about three years ago.
Now I realize how essential outlining is to creating a roadmap to a story and continuing its momentum when you feel lost.
And I’m feeling really lost at the moment. I’ve been revising my Festival of Shadows novel for the last year now and I’m still navigating its fraught waters. I have an outline but after six chapters of pushing through it, it doesn’t feel right. So, these last few days, I’ve been returning to the outline and doing some long overdue research on outlining strategies.
And you know what I found: Premise statements! In fiction, this is a succinct line or two about your story. I know most of you are slapping your foreheads at me wondering how I missed something so basic but this blew my mind. Again, keep in mind that I shook my fist at outlining yelling that it couldn’t contain me.
The premise statement gets at the narrative heart of your story and it’s the very thing I’ve been struggling with FoS. I had scenes, I had twists, turns, and some motivation here or there, but I couldn’t very clearly explain what my story was about. And now I can (sorta).
It’s a work in progress (when isn’t it, honestly) but my Festival of Shadows premise goeth thusly:
“In a town filled with ghosts, witches, and other miscellaneous members of the undead, stubborn reporter Mariela Hudson seeks answers to the uncanny disappearances of her fellow citizens and to also uncover the mysteries of her past with the reluctant help of an intern who sees spirits and a cynical coworker. Their efforts draw the ire of a monster in the shadows that threaten the town.”
I’m still tinkering with my story outline so I would really love to learn your favorite outline strategies in the comments below. For those who don’t outline, how do you craft your stories?