Hey there, Travelers & Dreamers!
Outlining your novel is a super fun exercise, actually. There’s no hard-and-fast rules for how to do it, as long as it makes sense to you. Nobody else is going to see your outline. Plus it’s a great way to prepare for the synopsis you’ll eventually have to write. (A synopsis obviously only applies to writers looking to publish their work traditionally.) But it’s also an excellent way to prepare for your blurb!
This is not a complete guide for how to outline your novel. These are just a few tips that I think will be helpful to writers!
So, how do you outline?
Well, I’ll tell you how I do it. First, think about the central ideas of your novel and the characters you love the most. What are the ideas that made you want to write an entire book? For REM World: Great Awakening, I knew I wanted to write about a dream world that wasn’t really a dream. I knew I wanted a serious, grumpy man paired up with a bubbly, optimistic man—and that I wanted them to end up together. (2/22/2021: Things changed in this sphere. Wanna know how? Preorder REM World this summer.)
Write all of this down. Mine would be:
Julian wakes in a dream world and learns that it’s a real place and that he could die. He meets Miles, who is a stark contrast to his dark and brooding personality.
Not a lot, right? Well, then we move to step two.
Who is your villain? What is the conflict?
Now you have to think about what is standing in your protagonist’s way. Because the villain is going to create the plot and give your MC something to overcome. Some writers don’t have an idea for the villain right away (like me) and outlining is a good way to come up with this before you start writing.
The villain for my novel is Titus and the conflict is that he wants to capture Miles. (This is the Book One conflict. This novel is the first in a trilogy.) So, my new outline becomes:
Julian wakes in a dream world and discovers the world is real and he can die there. He meets Miles, who is a stark contrast to Julian’s brooding personality. He must protect Miles from Titus, who wants to capture Miles to use him for his own gain. This threatens REM World and Earth, because Miles may have a dangerous super power.
Alright, it’s getting longer now, but probably not enough to write an entire book, right? So, now we have to flesh it out a little bit more. What else can we ask ourselves to deepen the story?
What are the central characters’ motivations?
You have some basic character personality traits for your MC(s) and villain, but not much else at this point. In REM World: Great Awakening, Titus is ‘specist’ and cold, Julian is serious and brooding, and Miles is upbeat and bubbly.
But those aren’t people. Not yet. What makes a character a person? Motivation. Actions. Reactions. Beliefs and individual moral codes. (Morality is subjective.) And backstory, which often provides motivation for the character. But we need to provide all of this without relying on exposition, so how do we do it? With the plot, of course!
If I apply this to REM World‘s working outline, we get this:
Julian wakes in REM World. [Action. Motivation is missing, because it is the mystery of the plot. Why did he wake in REM?] Because Julian learns that the world is real and he could die there, [Motivation.] Julian becomes afraid of REM [Action.] and reliant on the Resistance’s protection [Action.], an operation that has sheltered him since he first woke.
Because Julian learns that their protection for Julian is dependent upon what Julian will and won’t do for them, [Motivation] Julian slowly loses faith in the Resistance [Action.]
Because he has a vision about Miles, [Motivation.] Julian goes in search of him [Action.]. Miles is a man whose personality is a stark contrast to Julian’s, but Julian chooses to protect him from Titus and the Resistance [Action.], because he wants leverage against the Resistance [Motivation.]. He also does this because he doesn’t like that the leader of the Resistance intends to kill Miles when they find him [Motivation: Moral code.]. Julian doesn’t like the Resistance [Action.] because he does not like the idea of becoming the Resistance’s puppet [Motivation: Personality/characterization.] and because manipulation is something Julian cannot forgive [Motivation: Personality/characterization].
Titus wants to capture Miles [Action.] because he wants to use his possible latent super power to take over REM and Earth [Motivation: Character backstory.]. Julian protects Miles at first [Action.] because he wants to use him [Motivation.], just like the Resistance and Titus. Then Julian actually starts to care about Miles [Action.] because he realizes Miles’ kindness is not an act and he actually cares about Julian [Motivation.]. Julian then protects Miles [Action.] because he is Julian’s friend [Motivation.].
Miles travels in REM with Julian [Action.], because he doesn’t believe REM is real [Motivation: Character backstory.] and because he always has super vivid dreams [Motivation: Character backstory.]. But he soon begins to believe it [Action.], because he can feel pain in the dream [Motivation.]. Miles chooses to stay with Julian even though it’s dangerous [Action.], because he trusts Julian to protect him in REM [Motivation.]. Miles feels like his relationship with Julian is the first healthy relationship in his entire life [Action.], because Julian does several things throughout the book that shows how much he cares about Miles’ well-being [Miles Motivation/Julian Action.]. Because he learns Julian’s motivations for befriending him later, [Motivation.] Miles begins to mistrust Julian [Action.].
You might have noticed that every action has a “because” tacked on to it. This is one of the best ways to ensure that everything your characters are doing in your novel has a realistic reason for doing them. Nobody wants to read about characters who do things just because the author said so.
I’m going to stop here for today. If you want more tips on outlining, let me know in the comments and I’ll get right on it! Stay safe, Travelers & Dreamers! And follow me on Twitter @LLynnevans or read the first three chapters of REM World.