First you brainstorm, and then you select your outline style. The next step is to create an outline sketch. Whichever outline style you choose, starting with a sketch provides you with a distinct advantage as you move forward.
A sketch is a fairly easy way to start an outline. In order to start your sketch, you need to have a rough idea of three main things about your story. You know who, what, and where. You figure these things out during your brainstorming session(s).
Consider this sample idea: Sally the slithering snake must stop Slothful the salamander from slopping up the swamp of Slobberville.
That’s a good place to start, but if you try to jump into a full-blown outline from there you risk the same wanderlust you might have if you jump right into writing the novel. This could make for a lot of wasted time. So, create your outline sketch by creating signposts for your beginning, middle, and end; or your presentation, struggle, and resolution; or your instigation, attempts, and conclusion; or your act one, act two, and act three. Whatever you want to call the three basic stages of a story, your sketch provides you with a rough roadmap that leads you from one stage through to the next.
- Sally is on her way to visit Fiesty the frog, who is sick with the flu, and sees Slothful dumping sewage from his chemical plant into the swamp.
- Maybe Fiesty isn’t sick with the flu after all?
- But nobody believes Slothful would ever do such a thing.
- Will Sally try to prove it?
- Sally and Fiesty team up with some other lovely animals to investigate Slothful, but Slothful tries to cover his tracks.
- They decide to sneak into his office, but he’s onto them.
- They clash.
- They get away.
- More stuff happens which leads to Sally and Fiesty trying to track Slothful as he makes his dump.
- They catch him in the act, take a picture and get their proof.
- But can they get it to someone with enough power?
- They try, but it seems the Mayor is on the deal and destroys the evidence.
- They still have the film, though so…
- Sally and Fiesty overcome an undetermined number and type of obstacles to get the picture published in the paper, along with their testimony against the Mayor and…blah, blah, blah, everyone lives happily ever after, except the Mayor and Slothful, who are both in jail—and they have the flu, too.
This isn’t enough for a novel. But, it’s enough of a sketch to build a complete outline (or guide you through the writing if you prefer). So, like I said, start with a sketch. Cover the major bases. How does your story start? What kicks the story from starting to going? What are the biggest obstacles along the way? How does your story climax? What happens next?
Answer these questions and, congratulations, you have a sketch…but that doesn’t mean you have to stick to it!