The Outline

I’ve started to appreciate the power of having a well-planned outline as I close in on the last half of the one I’m currently completing. At over 100 pages (and 35,000 words so far) the outline itself is only about 2/3 complete. But already I’m glad to have taken time out from producing pages to really think the story through.

Being an intensely visual person, I realized right away that some kind of chart or diagram would be required to keep me on track. Google turned up some examples of various techniques used by authors to keep organized, including the duct-tape of outlining tools – the 3×5 note card. But I wanted something digital, which could easily be emailed or saved onto a thumb drive, then accessed from my computer in various coffee shops around town.

So I ended up just using Adobe Illustrator and hacking through what I’m calling the novel’s “visual synopsis” on my own. I created a matrix, with characters on the vertical axis and dates/chapter numbers/estimated page count on the horizontal. Each chapter icon contains a few sentences summarizing the relevant plot points, and I can now easily sketch out, rethink or completely change a character’s development across the novel as I work on the outline in Microsoft Word format. Without the visual synopsis I’d be lost, as the outline has swelled to a larger beast than I’d originally planned, and I’m now on version number four of the story.

I’m hoping that this few months of preparation will help me stay focused when I begin writing. Right now I have a full time job running the marketing department at a software company here in Dallas, and at the end of a day filled with buzz words it’s much easier to slip into full-blown writing mode if I know where I’m at in the story … and where it’s headed next.