There is a lot of controversy over Outlines. Stephen King, noted author of several bestsellers, says outlines stunt creativity. Many more authors swear by them. You could start an argument that would last into the next century on a message board about their necessity. (Here is a great blog about it) But if you’ve got your basic plot and characters down, even if only in your head, you know where your story is going. You already have a basic outline.
If you use outlines, or even if you don’t, you are going to want to shape your novel around some basic elements to get to the 50k word limit for NANOWRIMO.
1. Conflict – There has to be something driving your protagonist/antagonist toward a final goal. If you are writing a novel, it necessarily has to be something long term. Also keep in mind that you don’t want to inadvertently create an easy out for your characters. Take a look at:
There are internal conflicts, like Frodo’s fear he would become like Gollum, and external conflicts: taking the ring to Mordor to be destroyed. Even if you don’t like to do outlines, it’s fun to write down your conflicts and see what they are.
2. Character Change – I don’t think this is necessary for all stories. Stephen R Donaldson’s famous “Thomas Covenant” never changed. Most anti-heroes don’t change. But many of the most loved characters do. Think about your favorite characters and how they changed over the course of the novel. Is your main character facing those sorts of changes? Take a look at the climax in your plot and consider if it forces your character to change.
3. The End – This is one part of a novel you can’t ever do without. Even if you don’t write an outline, you should have some idea of your end goal in mind. The End is just like a due date, it’s what keeps you from going on and on and on and on. Your plot probably already leads you to an end point. When you have that down, you can steer your characters toward it. If you find your characters are wandering off into the abyss, getting nowhere near The End, try a rewrite, throw an obstacle or two to drive them toward it. Try not to be anticlimactic, even if it is memorable: “Rosebud”
Your story should read like a graph of the US economy, a nice steady climb (introduction) to the 90’s (for your climax), a tapering off at the 2000’s and then a sharp dip with the recession (The End).
I like a nice skeletal outline. Mine tend to look more like a storyboard than an actual outline. Don’t marry yourself to an outline, let it change if it needs to, but try to keep your ending solid. Constantly changing The End will lead you to a never-ending novel that never gets finished (or consequently, published).
Next blog I am going to post some of my favorite ‘hooks’ from novels. If you have any you like, by all means leave them in the comments section for me to include, with author, book, and hook.