How to Outline a Novel: A Thread.

(You don’t need to, and many awesome writers don’t! This is just one of many ways to write a book.)

I used to be a pantser, and I loved it and it was chaotic in the most glorious way. But over the years, I moved more towards outlining because
1. It made editing a lot easier
2. When I pantsed, I had serious pacing issues
3. I was often frozen for days because I had no idea where the story would go
4. I hate to say this, but if you’re traditionally published, it’s better if you give your editor a synopsis before
you start drafting, just so everyone knows what to expect and your editor is less likely to ask for major edits. One of my editors for example asked for pretty big changes to my synopsis, which is great! That’s what the synopsis was for. But if it had been a finished MS, then 💀
Anyway, so that’s why I outline now!

I’ve talked about and how I use the screenwriting cards to coax a plot out. Gingko gives you Save the Cat beats so it’s so so useful. It tells you when to insert the catalyst, when to make things rly hard for your MC,
And so on. I love it and I use the cards to type out a general “and then this happens.”

Now let’s talk about the synopsis and how detailed it is! After I have used Gingko’s cards to get as close to the end of my story as possible,
I write it out neatly as a beautiful, smooth synopsis. I aim for 6 to 8 pages. This synopsis helps by:

1. Reassuring me. Idk abt you, but I am intensely insecure and when I write, my mind is screaming “I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!!”
So every time I feel lost of overwhelmed (which is several times per writing session), I just refer back to the synopsis and I breathe a sigh of relief because hey, I *do* know!

2. Remember those pacing issues I have? With the synopsis, I can cheat by doing simple math.
For example, my synopsis for Theo 2 is 6 pages long. I know the book needs to be around 75K long, so I divide 75K by 6 and I now know that each synopsis page should be between 11K to 13K words. Obviously with lots of wiggle room depending on the story, but this gives me at least
a ballpark to aim for. Otherwise, I tend to rush my scenes and then end up with a 40K draft that I need to flesh out. 🥲

How detailed is the synopsis? I’ve heard ppl say that when they outline, they feel that the story is written, so drafting becomes too boring. I totally agree!
Which is why my synopses are only detailed enough to give me direction. Example:

I knew that I needed my characters to steal something from a shop. I needed them to get away with it. I knew who had to be involved. That’s it!

But when I started writing, I discovered a lot more.
The shopkeeper turns out to be an evil spirit! She’s booby-trapped the whole shop! The whole operation goes out of control! They barely manage to get out of it alive, and afterwards, everyone is rattled and feels the aftermath of it in the next scene. I didn’t know all these
details before I started writing, so it keeps the actual writing itself fun and refreshing. I’m still surprising myself despite knowing what needs to happen.

I also do a chapter summary as I go, which is in table format. Before I write, I look at the synopsis and
consider what should go into that single chapter I’m about to write. I jot that down in my chapter summary, which again is VERY mentally affirming (“You know where to go! You’ve got the tools! It’s going to be fine!”). Things do change as I write and discover new stuff,
No big deal! I just update the chapter summary afterwards.

Hopefully this demystifies outlining a bit, and shows you that it’s a very flexible tool you can use as loosely or strictly as you want. And again, NOT outlining is also completely legit. There is no right/wrong way!

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How I outline my books: A Thread.

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