This is a continuation on our series on tips to make the writing process and your writing career more organized, less stressful, and more effective.
The mini-outline is a thing of beauty for those of you that are plotter pantser hybrids like me. My personal mini-outline came about because the thought of writing out the arc of each chapter hurt me. But then again, so did having to rewrite my entire book. I had to find a way to define and structure the heart of my story while keeping it fun enough that I didn’t give my outline the middle finger half way through. Mine goes like this:
Characters – I always start by writing a paragraph about each primary (and sometimes secondary) character’s backstory and quirks such as, “Roberta is obsessed with grape soda and wears two pairs of underwear on road trips.” It’s also a great place for me to put a reference picture. Plus, it’s easy to give to an agent or editor as part of a proposal.
Setting – Just a quick paragraph (or more if it’s SFF) to work out the rules of the environment. The best case scenario is if I can make my setting into a character itself that my MC has to wrassle with at some point.
Themes – This is my absolute favorite. Identifying thematic layers can create more plot complexity. Also, defining the characters and situations that work within each theme generates all sorts of ideas for dialogue and conflict.
Tormenting My Main Character – To begin with, I identify my MC’s primary objective in my plot. My acting teacher always said that overarching objectives should be simple – find love, right a wrong, protect family.
Then, I have to figure out how to systematically threaten my MC’s objective in every way I can think of. I make a numbered list of the crappiest mental, physical, and situational obstacles I can throw at her to keep her from getting what she wants. Finally, I put them in order of escalating conflict.
It feels kinda evil while I’m doing it, but it saves me from a saggy middle and from going easy on my MC when I shouldn’t. Knowing the subplots and transitions from one obstacle to another is something I like to discover as I go. I’m not a fan of squeezing every bit of mystery out of a story. But, I’m not interested in doing structural surgery on my story cause it lacks momentum, either.
In total my mini-outline is really only a couple of pages. It tackles the fun stuff, so my pantser-self enjoys writing it, yet it has enough substance to keep my plotter-self confidently on track. It’s a huge time saver.
Now, I’d like to believe that I made up this particular mini-outline, but I’m sure others have done it before me. However, I’m perfectly happy to live with the self-delusion that I’m a snowflake.
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