Finish an outline so complete it reads like a first draft! Say goodbye to writing and rewriting with no results. Starting–and finishing–your story has never been easier.
First Draft Outline provides you with a sure-fire system to reduce time-intensive rewrites and avoid writing detours. Award-winning author Karen S. Wiesner’s method shows you how to create an outline so detailed and complete that it actually doubles as your first draft. Flexible and customizable, this revolutionary system can be modified to fit any writer’s approach and style. Plus, comprehensive and interactive worksheets make the process seem less like work and more like fun. This invaluable resource also includes:
-Itemized and flexible schedules to keep you focused each and every day
-Detailed worksheets to guide you through the outlining process
-Completed sample worksheets inspired by best-selling books
-Tips for outlining projects already in development
-Brainstorming techniques to keep you motivated
-Goal sheets for getting–and keeping–your career on track
Many aspiring and experienced writers toss out hundreds of pages (and waste valuable time) before they have a workable first draft of a story. You don’t have to fall into this category anymore. With First Draft Outline, you’ll have all the tools you need to write your masterpiece!
|Amazon||Apple Books||Google Play||Barnes and Noble||Kobo||Scribd||Smashwords||Angus & Robertson Print|
(ebooks are available from all sites, and print is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and some from Angus and Robertson)
First Draft Outline Bonus Companion Booklet contains all the blank worksheets, checklists, charts, exercises, and/or other aids from the main book along with in-depth examples. This companion booklet is provided as a supplement, assuming readers have a working knowledge of the methods discussed in First Draft Outliner. A free, editable digital file that allows users to type right into the document and use it over and over as needed
A print edition is also available for purchase (link also below). This bonus booklet also contains detailed exercises and examples.
Continue the Series:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction: Making the First Draft Outline Method Work For You
The Goal of the First Draft Outline Method
Your Commitment to the First Draft Outline Method
How to Use This Book
Understanding the First Draft Outline Method Schedule
What You’ll Need
Creativity and Outline
Improving Your Productivity
See the First Draft Outline Method in Action
Do I Have to do This Forever?
Chapter One: Brainstorming Before You Outline
The Creative Coffeepot
Brewing (and Performing an Exorcism)
Inspiration Tip Sheet
Chapter Two: Days 1-6: Your Preliminary Outline
Day 1: Character Sketches
Day 2: Setting Sketches and Research Strategies
Day 3: Plot Sketches
Understanding Story Threads
Weaving Threads into Your Plot Sketch
Days 4–5: The Summary Outline
Day 6: Miscellaneous Scene Notes and Closing Scene Notes
Miscellaneous Scene Notes
Closing Scene Notes
Chapter Three: Days 7–13: Researching Your Idea
When to Research
Why Research in the Outline Stage
Additional Outline Aids
Crime Timelines for Mystery and Suspense Stories
Motives and Alibis for Mystery and Suspense Stories
Chapter Four: Days 14–15: The Evolution of Your Story
Action and Suspense Tip Sheet
Chapter Five: Days 16–24: Your Formatted Outline
Consolidating Your Information
Formatted Outline Capsules
Outlining Tip Sheet
Incorporating Your Summary Outline Into Your Formatted Outline
Incorporating Your Miscellaneous Scene Notes Into Your Formatted Outline
Incorporating Your Closing Scene Notes Into Your Formatted Outline
The “Pick Up the Pace” Ploy
Day 16: Starting and Organizing Your Formatted Outline
Day 17: Incorporating Story Evolution Elements
Day 18: Incorporating Character and Setting Sketches
Day 19: Incorporating Research
Days 20–23: Brainstorming
Outlining and Writing in Tandem
Mystery Stories and Writing in Tandem
Day 24: Creating a Day Sheet and Table of Contents
Turning Your Day Sheet Into a Table of Contents
Chapter Six: Days 25–28: Evaluating the Strength of Your Formatted Outline
Day 25–26: Tagging and Tracing
Tagging and Tracing Your Story Goal
Tagging and Tracing Subplot Threads
Tagging and Tracing Tension
Day 27: Isolating Plot Threads
Day 28: Shoring Up Weak Elements in Your Formatted Outline
Chapter Seven: Days 29–30: Revising Your Formatted
Day 29: Filling In the Final Holes
Incorporating Last-Minute Research
Starting the Revision Process
Revising the Outline Instead of the Manuscript
Day 30: Putting It on a Shelf
Chapter Eight: Creating an Outline for a Project Already in Development or Re-Outlining a Stalled Project
Creating an Outline for a Project Already in Development
Revising an Outlined Story Without Starting From Scratch
Re-Outlining After at Least One Outline and Manuscript Draft
Chapter Nine: Getting the Most From Your Formatted Outline
A Snapshot of Your Book
Using Your Outline to Write the Book
Tweaking Your Outline as You Write
Final Editing Sheets
Avoiding Writer’s Block
Revision Not Allowed!
Editing and Polishing: Absolutely the Final Step
Getting Critical Reads
Putting It Back on the Shelf
Chapter Ten: Outlining Your Career
Tip Sheet: Writing Scene by Scene vs. Page by Page
Getting Ahead and Staying There
Appendix A: Glossary
Appendix B: First Draft Outline Method Schedules
Overview Schedules for New Projects
Stage 1: Preliminary Outline
Stage 2: Research
Stage 3: Story Evolution
Stage 4: Formatted Outline
Stage 5: Outline Evaluation
Stage 6: Outline Revision
Overview Schedules for Books in Development
Days 1–3: Evaluate the Previous Draft
Days 4–10: Re-Outline
Days 11–12: Miscellaneous and Closing Scene Notes
Days 13–14: Character Sketches
Days 15–16: Setting Sketches
Days 17–20: Plot Sketch and Story Evolution Worksheet
Days 21–22: Research
Days 23–24: Outline Aid Worksheets
Day 25: Day Sheet and Table of Contents
Days 26–27: Evaluate the Formatted Outline
Days 28–29: Revision
Day 30: Finishing Touches
Appendix C: First Draft Outline Method Worksheets
Worksheet 1: Character Sketch
Worksheet 2A: General Setting Sketch
Worksheet 2B: Character Setting Sketch
Worksheet 3: Research List
Worksheet 4: Plot Sketch
Worksheet 5: Summary Outline
Worksheet 6: Miscellaneous Scene Notes
Worksheet 7: Closing Scene Notes
Worksheet 8: Interview Questions
Worksheet 9: Dialogue
Worksheet 10: Facts
Worksheet 11: Background Timelines
Worksheet 12: Miscellaneous Timelines
Worksheet 13: Crime Timelines
Worksheet 14: Motives and Alibis
Worksheet 15: Story Evolution
Worksheet 16: Formatted Outline Capsule
Worksheet 17: Day Sheet
Worksheet 18: Supplemental Outline
Worksheet 19: Final Editing
Appendix D: First Draft Outline Method Goal Sheets
Goal Sheet 1: Yearly Goals
Goal Sheet 2: Multiyear Goals
Goal Sheet 3: Promotional Goals
Goal Sheet 4: Writing Goals
Goal Sheet 5: Editing Goals
Making the First Draft Outline Method Work for You
“Credit belongs to…the man who actually strives to do the deeds, who knows the great enthusiasm and knows the great devotion, who spends himself on a worthy cause, who, at best, knows in the end the triumph of great achievement. And who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…” ~Teddy Roosevelt
Imagine you could write the first draft of a story in only thirty days. Imagine you could figure out how long it would take to complete each step down to the day–that you could set accurate goals that would allow you to maintain a constant momentum in your writing career. Imagine writing quality books–each and every time–that no editor in his right mind could turn down. Everything you need is within your grasp. As you complete the first draft outline method explained in this book, you’re going to discover much about yourself and your abilities.
My first draft outline method for outlining a story eliminates many of the problems that plague fiction writers. Why dig for plots blindly when, with a little preparation, you can craft something worthwhile from start to finish? Why go through countless, lengthy drafts of a story when you can create an outline so complete that it actually qualifies as the first draft? Why revise hundreds of pages of a complicated manuscript when you can revise a snapshot of your story that’s a quarter of the book’s length? Using an outline can significantly reduce the time it takes you to complete a project from start to finish–sometimes by more than half.
The method contained in First Draft Outline will work for any size story as well as for any genre of fiction. The method is good for any type of writer, whether you’ve just started writing or you’ve been at it for twenty-five years. It will work for you if you want clear direction from start to finish, and it will work for you if you simply want to use parts of the system to enhance your own way of writing. It will work for you if you are already productive and successful but yearn to take the world by storm.
You may be under the mistaken impression that using an outline stifles creativity, that you can’t be productive in every aspect of your writing life. If you’ve never worked with an outline before or prefer a more leisurely method of working as you embark on what you see as a spiritual journey, adhering to this structured process may sound downright impossible–and in some cases, even horrifying. As you’ll see, there’s no wrong way to write a book–but there are ineffective ways of writing. Only you can decide if this method is for you. If you’re not sure, try this method once (though it’s best to try it at least two or three times) and see if it makes a big difference in what you’re able to accomplish.
THE GOAL OF THE FIRST DRAFT OUTLINE METHOD
The outline you’ll complete using the first draft outline method will become a snapshot of your story. After finishing a full outline, you should feel two things: (1) that you’ve got the makings of an entire book (your story should feel complete, solid, exciting, and wholly satisfying) and (2) that you still desperately want to write the book you’ve outlined.
A first draft outline completed using the first draft outline method is equivalent to the first draft of a manuscript. Because you’ve revised it so thoroughly, it reads with all the completeness and excitement of a finished story. Using your outline as you write the first draft of your book (which, in almost all cases, will be the final draft, needing only minor editing and polishing) should be so easy, you might even feel a little guilty about it. You will have done all the hard work creating the outline.
Throughout this book, we’ll work on the assumption that the first draft of your book isn’t a fully completed draft in the traditional sense, but instead a comprehensive outline–your first, whole glimpse of the book and a snapshot of what it will be once finished. The outline you create over the next thirty days will become the foundation upon which your entire story will come to rest. This method is a way to lay out the full course of the story as it flows from beginning to end. Your first draft is in outline form, not yet a fully realized manuscript. The first time you sit down to begin the actual writing process, you’ll create your second–and in some cases, final–draft. (I also call this your first full draft.)
YOUR COMMITMENT TO THE FIRST DRAFT OUTLINE METHOD
Despite its flexibility, the first draft outline method requires a great deal of commitment from you as a writer. The first thing you need in order to become a productive writer is self-discipline. This method will give that to you in spades–if you’re willing to dedicate yourself to doing your part. I won’t pull any punches with you: Not everyone will be able to complete a first draft outline in exactly thirty days on the first try. Does that mean you’ll never be able to do it? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. This method, like all methods, requires a sufficient amount of practice. The longer you use it, the more you use it, the more time and effort you’ll eventually shave off your outlining schedule. In the future, you may even notice it takes you considerably less time to write the first full draft of your book.
Does it mean you’ve failed if it takes you ninety days instead of thirty? Of course not. If you need more (or less) time to perform certain steps in the process, you can adjust your schedule easily. But this method will probably make you work harder than you’ve ever worked before. Some will enjoy the challenge. Others will use the method while setting their own deadlines for each step. And still others won’t be willing to allow their muse to be harnessed in this way. Find what works for you over the long haul, not simply for the moment. Even if you find the next thirty days difficult, I encourage you to continue using this method for all of your projects. I promise you it will get easier with experience.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
First Draft Outline is broken down into ten chapters followed by four appendices. In chapter one, we’ll discuss the various schedules that make up the first draft outline method and its six crucial stages. We’ll also explore some brainstorming techniques because brainstorming is an essential part of this entire process.
Chapters two through seven will take you step by step through the six principle stages of the first draft outline method. Each stage is broken down into a certain number of days during which different segments of your outline will be developed, combined, and revised. Each chapter starts with a review of the schedule and prepares you for the work ahead.
If you already have a completed manuscript, you may want to read chapter eight before reading chapters two through seven. This chapter will show you how to use the first draft outline method to outline an already completed manuscript. By going back and outlining your completed manuscript, you can build on its strengths and eliminate its weaknesses, since the process of outlining will show you exactly where the story needs work.
Chapter nine will take you through the process of using your completed outline to write your manuscript. It will also discuss how to use writing and revision schedule sheets to keep yourself on track.
Chapter ten will show you how the structuring concepts of the first draft outline method can also be used to shape your career. In addition, you’ll learn how to use goal sheets to stay focused on each of your projects.
The four appendices contain all the supplemental materials you’ll need to work your way through the first draft outline method:
- Appendix A contains a glossary that includes key outlining terms discussed within this book. If you ever get confused about what a term means, just consult the glossary.
- Appendix B contains all the schedules necessary to complete the first draft outline method for a new book idea or for one already in some form of development. Overview and step-by-step schedules are included as well. The schedules contain columns where you can include specific dates and notes for yourself as you work.
- Appendix C contains the worksheets referenced in chapters two through nine. (In those chapters you’ll see completed worksheet samples based on what some of today’s bestsellers may have looked like in outline form.)
- Appendix D includes the career goal sheets discussed in chapter ten.
UNDERSTANDING THE FIRST DRAFT OUTLINE METHOD SCHEDULE
We’ll discuss the first draft outline method schedules again and again throughout this book. Understanding what’s happening on each day of the process will help you to stay focused and on track over the next thirty days. Keep in mind that as you become more experienced with outlining, you’ll be able to make adjustments to the method and individualize it to best suit your needs.
Let’s take a look at the overall schedule behind the first draft outline method.
Outline Schedule for a New Project
|Schedule||Stages To Complete||Days Required|
|Days 1–6||Stage 1: Preliminary Outline||6|
|Days 7–13||Stage 2: Research||7|
|Days 14–15||Stage 3: Story Evolution||2|
|Days 16–24||Stage 4: Formatted Outline||9|
|Days 25–28||Stage 5: Outline Evaluation||4|
|Days 29–30||Stage 6: Revise the Outline||2|
This is simply an overview of each stage. Keep in mind that each of the six stages identified above has its own day-to-day schedule. These individual schedules are discussed at length at the start of each corresponding chapter.
The first couple of times you use this method, you may find yourself struggling to stay on schedule. Don’t worry if you need to allow yourself an extra day or two for some tasks. As you become more familiar with the method, you’ll find it easier to stay on schedule.
While this method is specifically designed with the promise of completing a full outline before you begin writing the book, we’ll talk about outlining and writing in tandem in chapter five, in case you find that you work better that way.
Please remember that the first steps in creating a comprehensive outline are very rough–each step will build on the previous one. The preliminary outline you create in Stage 1 won’t contain everything. You’ll just be getting your basics down at this point. With each step, you’ll be developing more details about every aspect of the book, and your outline will grow to reflect that.
As you’re writing the first full draft of your book, you’ll also be re-evaluating your outline periodically as your story takes on a life of its own and moves in directions you might not have planned. You won’t stop evaluating the strength of your outline until the book is complete.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
In order to use this book, you’ll need to have access to the basics: a computer, printer, pens, paper, paperclips, a stapler, and even scissors. You also may find it helpful to have expanding and two-pocket folders on hand to help you keep everything organized.
The first draft outline method can be completed using pens and paper or on a computer. If you use a computer, it’s easiest to start a new document for most of the stages in the preliminary outline phase and to save each document to the same project folder. Also, always remember to print a clean copy of your document at the end of the day if you can afford it and it’s practical to do so. This will keep you better organized and may just inspire a little brainstorming.
CREATIVITY AND OUTLINES
Before I tried writing an outline, I believed I simply couldn’t learn to use one. Then I forced myself to try using an outline–my own version of an outline–for a book I’d already written numerous drafts of. First I sketched out a couple of chapters, and then I started writing the book once more. I completed the outline about midway through writing the first draft of the book. Not long after that, when I first used an outline for a brand new project, I found myself brainstorming constantly and productively. I was able to outline six to eight scenes of the book without writing a word of the actual story.
Since this meant that the outline was completed well ahead of the book, I was able to revise the outline instead of the story. A wondrous thing happened in this process: I saw the entire story from start to finish condensed in one place–including all the unworkable parts. All I had to do to strengthen the entire book was fix the unworkable elements in the outline.
Now when I write a story, I always start with a complete outline that I can revise as many times as I need to. Writing a book has almost become a simple process. After outlining, most projects require only one full draft and a final edit and polish. I save time, effort, and many, many intense rewrites. I can also write more “final draft” books a year, which means I have more to show for myself at the end of the year than a half dozen book drafts that need yet another overhaul.
I’ll be the first to state emphatically that there is no wrong way to write a book. I’ve talked to hundreds of authors, published and unpublished, and all of them have their own unique ways of working. There’s no wrong way, but some are less effective than others.
Sadly, too many authors believe outlines are a last resort. They see writing as a magical series of epiphanies that somehow takes them from the first page of a story to the last with little or no premeditation. I don’t discount the magical element–because it is there in some degree–but I simply can’t buy into the spiritual intuition way of writing. For one thing, not every brand-new, never-written-much-or-anything-before writer can be expected to have this kind of intuition. Any writer–experienced or not–who finds it difficult to develop plot and character as she writes can benefit from a structured outlining process.
Author John Berendt says, “Don’t make an outline; make a laundry list. The very idea of an outline suggests rigidity; items on a laundry list can be shifted around. Don’t lock the structure in too early. A piece of writing should evolve as it’s being written.” I hear the same thing from almost every writer I talk to, whether or not he’s published: Writers like outlines about as much as a homeowner likes termites. The word can actually make some writers cringe and do a full-body shudder. An outline sounds like too much work; it’s uninspiring, too confining, absolutely unappealing; necessitates the ability to see far ahead in a book; I can’t possibly work that way!
Writers who haven’t tried an outlining system have many questions about the process: Is it possible for an outline to be flexible? To take into account my individuality as a writer? Can I continue to be creative using an outline? Can I use an outline for writing in any fiction genre? Can using an outline reduce the number of rewrites I have to do? Can it really take me less time to complete a project from start to finish using an outline? Won’t setting goals clip my wings rather than allow me to stretch them?
Despite their abhorrence of the word outline, many authors are seeking a method to give them direction, a method that embraces an individual’s way of working, a method that takes away none of the joy of creating. They want something that will streamline the process and make them more productive, so they’re not surrounding themselves with half-finished projects and manuscripts in need of major revisions.
If you are one of these authors, let me assure you: An outline can be flexible, can be so complete it actually qualifies as the first draft of the story. An outline can make it possible for writers like you to achieve more with less work, not only reducing the number of drafts required for each project, but perhaps even reducing the number to a single draft. This means producing more books and quite likely making more sales to publishers.
Instead of viewing an outline as an inflexible, unchangeable hindrance, imagine it as a snapshot of a book. A snapshot that captures everything the story will contain, but on a much smaller scale. Just as a photograph can be touched up, this snapshot of a book can be adjusted and rearranged until it’s smooth, strong, and breathtakingly exciting. Revising a comprehensive outline of your story means revising fifty to a hundred pages instead of four times that. You must admit, my fellow writer, that an outline offers many benefits.
Without robbing you of the joy of your craft, First Draft Outline teaches you how to become a systematic, self-disciplined, productive author–no matter your genre or level of experience. While the technique behind the first draft outline method takes into account that you’re an individual and may have your own methods of getting from Point A to Point B, it nonetheless helps clarify your vision of your story before you begin writing your first (and possibly final) full draft. No more wasted time or endless overhauls and revisions. The clearer your vision of the story before you start the actual writing, the more fleshed out the story will be once it makes it to paper.
IMPROVING YOUR PRODUCTIVITY
The method contained in this book, combined with the goal-setting suggestions in chapter ten, should cut in half the time it usually takes you to complete a project from outline to final draft. Of course, each writer is different and works at different speeds. A longer book may take longer to write. However, a more complex story won’t increase your writing time because you’ll work out the kinks of the story while outlining.
Before I started using the first draft outline method, I could write a full draft of a book in about two months–not counting all the time that I lost when my inspiration failed and I set the book aside and started a new one before eventually returning to the first one. It’s also important to note that early in my writing career, I required twelve drafts per book to get something halfway decent. Later, by using my earlier drafts but not yet using an outline, I got that number down to four drafts per book. Do the math yourself: When I needed twelve drafts per book, it took me two years or more to complete one story. When I needed four drafts per book, it took eight months to complete a story.
Since I’ve been using the full outline process, the most time it takes to complete an outline of a book–regardless of length–is two to three weeks. And it only takes me one to two months to complete a first and final manuscript draft.
With each book you complete, your skills as a writer are likely to improve. You’ll also increase your chances of making a sale if you have more than one book to shop around to publishers and agents.
SEE THE FIRST DRAFT OUTLINE METHOD IN ACTION
In this book, I use a wide variety of examples to demonstrate each step of the first draft outline method. Inspired by bestselling stories, these examples come from a variety of genres. They will show you just how versatile the First Draft Outline method is. You can use it for every single genre of fiction, no matter how short or long your work is.
However, it’s equally important that you see the method used on a single book, the way you’ll start out using it yourself. To this end, I’ve included examples of each step in the process taken from a single book in the First Draft Outline Bonus Companion Booklet, a separate booklet that includes all the worksheets and checklists used in this book. The free digital edition of the Bonus Companion Booklet actually allows you to type into the file, reusing it as many times as you need for all your projects. (A print edition is also available for purchase.) In the examples you’ll also find there, you’ll see the worksheets as I completed them for my paranormal romance book Sweet Dreams along with an excerpt to show you how the bones took on flesh. Seeing a cohesive picture of how the method works through every stage of my book will help you visualize how it works as you use it for your book. Find out more about this booklet by visiting http://www.writers-exchange.com/3d-fiction-fundamentals-series/.
DO I HAVE TO DO THIS FOREVER?
After the Writer’s Digest Books edition of this book first came out, I was frequently asked whether all the pre-writing steps, checklists, and worksheets had to be completed with each writing project. The Story Evolution Worksheet (chapter four), for instance, is arduous. Am I suggesting every author should fill one out for every single project? No. God forbid. I wouldn’t even do it for myself. The worksheet is for those who need more help with the development of story evolution. Some might only use it for a scene or two in their book–one that’s giving them trouble. The same goes for tagging and tracing (chapter six). Do it when and where it helps you. Only you can know the circumstances that warrant its use.
I promise you, you won’t always have to fill out so many worksheets and checklists–unless you want to continue with them. The longer you write, the more books you finish, the easier it should become. Writers grow more adept in our writing the longer we do it.
If you’ve never written a book before, you’ll need the direction both of my books (and plenty of others) can give you. If you simply can’t get some portion of your book to work, then all the checklists and exercises should help you figure out where your story is stuck or going wrong.
A writer usually spends a lifetime honing his or her process of writing. But the first step is locking down what works for you and what doesn’t. Once you’ve used a method like those I advocate in my books often enough, you’ll find that a lot of the writing process has become instinctive for you. You’ll understand the importance of solid characterization now, whereas you may not have before. You’ll comprehend how well-placed descriptions can enhance all the other parts of a book. Because so much of this has become instinctive for you, you may not have to formally complete setting sketches or plot sketches, etc., anymore. You’ll do those things within the framework of your research and then within the outlining.
Whatever stage in your writing, I don’t ever believe you should do more work than you need to. If you find yourself getting bogged down (either by the amount of time allotted–too much or too little–to each step, by an ability to progress with a step, or for any other reason), move on to the next step. If you don’t need to follow a particular step in the process because you’ve already done it or it would just be unnecessary for you, you shouldn’t do it. All of this stuff is designed to get writers thinking about areas that they’ve always seen as part of a whole, but that they’ve never before separated from the whole. In the beginning, you may need to perform all of those steps, filling out endless worksheets, etc., as you learn how to sufficiently develop each aspect of a book. But only do what you feel benefits you and your story.
All this said, I believe an outline is a crucial layer in developing every story. I don’t really think you can “instinctively” grow out of needing one of those because it’s really the ideal place the hard work of writing a book should be done.
The first draft outline outlining process described in this book can allow you to harness your muse and put her to work so that you can become a more productive writer. You may feel that by harnessing your muse, you risk restricting your source of inspiration and creativity. Fear not. The First Draft Outline method merely directs your creativity so you can complete your writing projects quickly and easily.
If you’re willing to take a leap of faith and commit yourself for the long haul, let’s get started!