Succinctly: a lot.
However, as I’ve mentioned before, I write stories in complicated worlds. If I don’t do a lot of pre-writing, then I need to do a lot (a lot) of writing and even more editing. All my insanity now cuts down on the insanity I will need later in the writing process.
So… we’ve covered coming up with ideas, choosing the idea, roughing an outline, and carding your story. Next up is the exciting experience of updating the draft of your outline.
It’s suddenly occurred to me that not everyone had eight years of writing outlines to drill the process in your skulls. It wasn’t fun, but I do think it’s helped me out later (it definitely helped me in AP US History where I was required to write one for every chapter). For this post we’re going to talk about outlining.
To write a traditional outline (I really don’t know if it’s traditional, but it’s what I learned), you first need to understand Roman numerals. If you’re a fan of football (American) and watch the Superbowl, you may already know it. Here are the basics:
- “I” or “i” is equal to 1, “V” or “v” is 5, “X” or “x” is 10, “L” or “l” is 50. You can go further, but you shouldn’t need to for a story outline, so I won’t. It’s easy to Google if you need to.
- I is 1, II is 2, III is 3. Yay for counting.
- To write four, however, it’s IV, which is V-I (5-1).
- Therefore, III is 3, IV is 4, V is 5, VI is 6, VII is 7, VIII is 8, IX is 9, and X is ten.
- You can keep doing this as much as you need to.
This is the first step. You can decide what to use the Roman numeral for in your outline, but it’s the first step. (You can also just use Microsoft Word’s outline button-thing, but I am entirely too stubborn for that and I tend to hand-write everything first. Also, I’m not sure it had that feature when I first started writing outlines, or it did and I wasn’t clever enough to figure it out. Anyway.)
Here’s an example of what my outline might look like.
I. Chapter 1: Chapter Title
A. Hiking Scene (PoV if it’s Multiple PoV)
B. New World
Basically, the notes go: Roman numerals (capital), letters (capital), numbers, letters (lower case) and Roman numerals (lower case). Each level is another indent further in on the line, but you only go to a new level when you have at least two notes. Otherwise you should use a dash or an asterisk (*) to mark it (you still indent).
It’s, um, much easier when you try it yourself. I’ve been doing this since I was in the fourth grade, so it’s pretty firmly imprinted on my mind. Feel free to ask me any questions (it’ll probably make more sense if you Google it, honestly).
Now that you see what an outline is, it’s a good time to take your index cards and use that to update your outline. You can use a spreadsheet to keep track of your chapters and scenes (wordcount, PoV, point in timeline, etc), but I never do that. Another note I have is that each chapter has it’s own page. That way I can keep it with the drafts when I’m editing by chapter, and I can take notes on the page.
It’s pretty boring overall, but if you’re like me it’ll help in the long run. Let me know how you outline, or if Roman numerals bring back horrible memories of chalkboards and red pens. I’d love to hear it.