Hi. Today’s blog is about creating an outline, which is real important because it will help you keep your book in balance, give it structure, and provide boundaries for the plot, subplots and character arcs.
Before we dig into the outline….
I often reference my book, “Another Chance,” because it has real examples to follow. Ernest, my grandfather, is the protagonist and is the reason I’m here:)
There are three major sections to an outline: the conflict, central theme, and the setting. So let’s break each section down.
First, The Conflict Section
The conflict is where the basic mechanics of your story begin.
There is no story without conflict.
The protagonist must have something to overcome, achieve, conquer…..to create the intrigue for the story.
Conflict, by definition, is a struggle between opposing forces.
Ernest, had a lot of struggles early on. He lost his mother when he was 5 — and you can imagine a child being without their mother at such an early age.
So his conflict was internal — but it affected him the rest of his life.
His next major conflict was at the age of 12, when his father remarried. This was an external conflict — his new stepmother had 5 children which meant there were new “players” and Ernest had to adapt to a new set of rules.
From the outset his new stepmother made it clear he needed watching and constantly reminded him she was looking over his shoulder.
Eventually this external conflict got the best of him. His grades went down, he started fighting with other kids, got kicked off the cricket team, and became “the bad boy.”
The story you create around these life-changing conflicts is what keeps your readers turning the page. That’s what creates the intrigue and makes your readers really root for your main character and cheer him on.
Your outline should contain several conflicts that you can play with. Some will make it to your final story and others may shift and take on new shape as they evolve…and
that’s okay. At this point you just want to have a framework and something to build on.
The second section of your outline is The Central Theme.
The central theme is the unifying element of your story. It ties together all of the other elements used to tell the story.
In the previous example, the “central theme” is for Ernest to win his independence and, in turn, reverse his “bad boy” image that came through no fault of his own.
The central theme accelerates when Ernest finally runs away to America to survive. And then we discover, why…his stepmother wanted to form a rift between father and son so she could take control of his father’s money. Ernest was simply, in the way.
So, Ernest goes on to bigger and better things and the readers cheer him on.
The story that is created taking the reader through these events, is what creates the intrigue in the early-going where the reader is pulling for this character to win.
As your main character evolves, his personality is shaped through his rigors of overcoming conflict…hence the term “conflict resolution” can also be applied to describe the central theme.
The last section of your outline is the …Setting.
The “setting” is the context in which a story occurs and includes the time, place, and social environment.
As you’re completing your outline with the setting, you’re at a threshold that can really set the tone for your novel. Do you want to create a dramatic backdrop, an outdoorsy kind of theme, a modern day setting with electronics in the mix, or a dated piece?
If it’s a dated piece, plan on doing some research on the area in that time period.
Late 19th century, London England — three miles from London Docs, is perfect for an upper middle class family in the shipping business.
The setting provides a dramatic backdrop for this family in disruption.
The physical description of the house is important..the wooden staircase, formal dining room, and maids quarter’s give it authenticity.
It adds to the drama that “how could this kid be so mistreated in such a perfect environment?” So there’s a contrast between how things look and how they are.
Readers want to help Ernest. And they also despise his stepmother and want to keep reading to make sure Ernest gets vindicated.
So that’s it, those are the three sections: The Conflict, Central Theme, and The Setting.
Each of these sections is working to pull your readers in, make them feel engaged and like they’re a part of the story and Ernest’s life. As if they’re on the journey with him.
Without one of these sections, what happens to the story, what’s missing? You need all of them working together, and they should all make sense in relation to each other.
When you reach your reader on these three different levels, you made a aintain the authenticity and rhythm of your story. Everything fits.
When you’re creating an outline, start with the concept of “justification.” Each building block you use in these three sections, builds on each other and one chapter must justify the next.
Have fun with this.