Editing Rant: Outline

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Why Outline?

On the days when your muse takes a day off, you can still keep going. Words on paper every day is how a book gets completed. You don’t need a detailed outline, just a line or two per chapter to do the trick. I am hoping to use my outline to get through my post-convention slump. 

In addition outlining helps with:

  1. Refining the concept – Sometimes the story is not about what you think it is about. Once you know what the important conflict is, keeping focused on the plot pacing is easier.
  2. Pacing – Essential for genres where you need to provide clues and red herrings, such as mysteries. You don’t want to give them up all at once or hold them back too long. Useful everywhere – quests (journey stages), relationship development (love at first sight still needs tension), and emotional changes (when does the first change occur, when the backslide, and the final new emotional habit develop?).
  3. Timeline pressure – Ticking clock, need to know when everything happens, and picking up the pace as the deadline approaches.
  4. Large casts – Don’t let people just disappear and keep the pivotal characters impact consistent throughout the manuscript.

And from the editing standpoint if you are under contract:

  1. Length – Get a feel for how long the book is. Over time you will know how many words are in a chapter. Do you need to add chapters to reach your word count or do you need to go on a path of destruction? An outline can help indicate which sub-plots you can remove.
  2. Synopsis – Hate synopsis? Providing one to your content editor will help them know what direction you are going.  Use the outline to figure out what is specific to the largest plot and present that.
  3. Time left to write – So that contract. It has a deadline. Just how far are you into writing that book? Your editor needs to know – YESTERDAY – if you are falling behind. … And if you are not under contract because you are a new writer, I recommend setting a personal goal to practice meeting deadlines. Many of the editors for hire have narrow windows for taking on new business; you are going to want to fit into one. (Yep, there is the editing rant as promised. Deadline, folks!!!)
  4. Pantser editing – After finishing your story, go back and outline it to help you refine how you need to edit your story. Which chapters might need moving? Where does the pacing slump? Is any chapter just an info/history dump and needs to be redistributed so it is not disruptive?

An outline is the scaffolding, the building blocks, the DNA of your story. What other things do you think an outline will help you with?