What are some tips for creating a plot outline for a novel?
I frequently am sparked by bits and pieces of ideas for books (specific scenes, dialogue, metaphors,etc). I'd like to say most of my talent lies in writing eloquently, but I have a hard time elaborating on my different ideas. Does anyone else have this problem? How do I decide on a plot? What are the elements of a great plot? Thanks so much!
Most stories are told in 3 acts; introduction or anticipation, realization or action, then resolution or conclusion. Many explain these three acts this way: Take your hero and run him up a tree, then throw some rocks at him, then show how he gets out of that tree.
It can help to write out an outline in those 3 acts, and ask yourself questions about the scenes you imagine and your characters. What type of person are they? Why are they doing what they're doing? What are they trying to accomplish? What are the problems they're facing, and why? How would they resolve this situation?
Those are just basics, but they might help.
Fiction books that are already published make great textbooks - because that book in your hand has been deemed worthy of publication - so it has something going for it.
For the mechanics of the story: One of the fun ways I have found to improve my writing and pull together stories or novel ideas is to take a favorite book and analyze it. Get your favorite book from a used book service and mark the heck out of it. Mark at what page you are into the story and don't want to put the book up. Mark when the store reveals itself, when does it resolve, etc.
From this you can draw a rough outline that will tell you the construction of this particular author's work. From this you can create your own, and decide what you want and when you want it in the story. Plus it is a lot of fun.
Plot: what kind of books do you like? What will you pick up off the shelf and not put down? Start small with some free writing. Just create a scene: maybe a woman standing at the kitchen sink watching her kids leave for school. What does the kitchen look like and what is this woman like. Ideas will begin to pop into your head. Sometimes the characters write the stories for us.
Outlines don't necessarily need to plot out every little aspect of the book. For me, I need three basic things to get started. The first is characters. The fastest way to derail momentum when writing is to introduce a new character you know nothing about. Figuring out their name, what they look like, and their general demeanor and back story can completely wipe your mind of whatever it was you were just doing. So make up a bunch of character profiles in advance so you can just grab from that pool when you need to. The second is setting. You don't have to get too specific, but at least have an idea of something you can compare it to. Visualize it, not only in terms of its physical appearance, but the mood that it invokes. And third, you just need some sort of conflict. You don't know to know why it happened yet, or who is going to fix it, just some form of conflict. A stranger arrives in town, or a meteor is headed for earth. Conflict propels the plot forward and you can go with it as it unfolds. Having existing characters and settings will just help to prevent stumbles along the way.
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