What you need before you start:
* Lined notepad (with at least 4 clean pages)
* Alternatively, you can use a whiteboard and marker
Step 1. Rough outline notes.
Open your notebook to the first clean page. On the first line, write “Beginning”, then “Middle” somewhere around the middle, and “End” several spaces before the bottom. Under each of these sections, write down the ideas you have for the beginning, middle, and end of your story. Alternately, these can be Act 1, Act 2, Act 3. If you work on beats, you can do those instead. Remember, adapt every piece of writing advice to what works best for you.
You can keep this outline stage as detailed or as basic as you like. The main purpose is to get you thinking a bit more deeply about the manuscript as well as to show you that you have something to work with – or whether you should bother starting.
It also gives your ideas room to expand. Sometimes, it’s easier to get the thoughts flowing onto paper rather than keeping them swirling in your mind.
Once that is complete, move to . . .
Step 2. GMCF Statement.
This is what I call the “Goal, Motivation, Conflict, and Fear” statement. Understanding these four things deepens your story and helps with character development. If you want to know even more about each individual part in this stattement, you can watch my GMCF series of videos on my YouTube channel here.
At the top of your next clean page, write “GMCF Statement”. Put “Goal”, “Motivation”, “Conflict” and “Fear” as your subheadings every few lines under this main heading.
Then, ask yourself the following questions:
A. What does my character want?
- This is the goal. It can be internal, external, or both. Both is usually the better option, but stories can work with any of these. An external goal has to be tangible (e.g. a job promotion) whereas an internal goal can be more abstract – they probably don’t know what they need to achieve success from within. As an example, the internal could be something like needing to learn discernment when it comes to being vulnerable versus putting up boundaries.
B. Why does the person want it?
- This is the motivation behind the goal. There is always something that drives a character to do the things they do. What makes the character/s want what they want?
C. What is stopping the character from getting what they want?
- This is the conflict. The thing that is getting in the way of them getting what they want. It could also be destroying their motivation. Again, this can be something internal or external. Perhaps they are not confident enough (internal) or they have someone competing for the same job as them (external).
D. Fear is something a lot of writers skip, but I feel it adds an extra element to stories. Ask yourself what your character is scared of. Specifically, what they’re scared of if they don’t achieve their goal. What is the worst that could happen?
Note all of the ideas you get for these down under their appropriate subheading.
When you are done, it’s time to . . .
Step 3. Draw a mind map.
If you have never done a mind map, now is the time to try! They are amazing for all sorts of creative problem solving.
Write your mind map question in the middle of the page and put a circle around it. The mind map question should be some form of: what makes my character the only one who can play out this story?
Next, write all your ideas, even the ridiculous ones, off arrows coming from the middle circle. Check out my example below.
Once you are finished with that, go to the . . .
½ Step! The “miscellaneous” bits.
I do a quick miscellaneous notes page (which is why it’s only half a step!).
On this page, I include:
- What country is the story set in? Is it rural or the city? Will it be in a mansion or tent?
- Is it summer? What month? Does your character need to be wearing a jacket or bikini? Remember to think about whether it is the southern or northern hemisphere because the seasons will be different.
- What are the themes you want to work on in your novel? Is it putting yourself first? Learning to trust? Even if love is one of the themes – and it will be for a romance novel – try to break it down further. For instance, is it “all love is self-love”? Is it “what is unconditional love”?
- I tend to keep this simple, focusing on hair/eyes/skin, but you can go as detailed as you like.
And, that’s it. You’re done! This is my complete outlining process. It’s simple, fun, and gives you a lot to work with in such a small amount of time.
How did you go? Is there anything else you would like to know when it comes to outlining? Let me know in the comments.
Yours in writing,
A.K. Leigh xo