Writing Advice: A New Outline


The editing process means taking apart your story and eliminating parts that you don’t like, but it also means creating new and awesome story elements. As you read through your first draft and begin to construct your second, you may realize that you deviated from the outline you originally envisioned. Working with an outline can help you keep on track, but it’s pretty easy to shift away from that original plan and start writing in a new direction. When you pick up your story to start a second draft, you might find it helpful to outline a second time, this time including all of those awesome things you added in during the writing process.

On his blog, Terrible Minds, Chuck Wendig discussed some important points you should understand about your second draft. One of the things he talked about was re-outlining. Chuck says, “Outline each chapter, maybe — one sentence per. Or outline the arrangement of tentpole plotpoints…The reason for doing this is — your novel? It’s a big trash bag full of who-the-fuck-knows. It’s the forest and you need to see the trees. An outline lets you get your hands on it. You can break it down, break it apart, and feel more comfortable understanding how individual components contribute to the whole.”

I know that when I finish a first draft, there are plot points and development moments that I’ve forgotten. Sometimes it’s because they were written in a hurry (i.e. during NaNoWriMo), or it’s because I wrote them so long ago. Those “tentpole plotpoints,” as he calls them, have also probably changed from what you included in your first outline. Maybe some of them didn’t work, so you reworked them as you wrote. To get a better handle on what your story looks like right now, you can create a new outline to get a bird’s-eye view.

Even if you don’t look at this second outline ever again, the act of putting it together might be enough to jog your memory and put you back into the right headspace for a rewrite. This would be especially helpful if you’ve been away from your story for some time and need to understand what it’s all about again.

For those of you out there who wouldn’t call yourself outliners, what’s the harm in giving this one a try? If you’re preparing to do a second draft, try dashing together a quick outline and see if it helps you. And to everyone — happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

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