Monday, January 26, 2015

Outlining Your Novel by Looking at the Big Picture

Last week, while I was having difficulties figuring out what to blog about, a friend asked me to blog about my plotting process. We'd had a conversation sometime before that in which I told her that I plot out my novels using index cards, so I thought it might be a good idea to go ahead and write on that.

Then I realized: I'd already blogged about using index cards last year. So, if you're interested, please check out my post: Organizing Your Novel's Plot (a.k.a.: Creating a Murder Board is Extremely Helpful When Plotting (or Replotting) Your Novel). Long story short: use index cards to help outline the most basic plot points of your novel.

I've decided to expand on that post in a very basic way by simply explaining it. In that post, I talk about writing every basic plot point on an index card, and pinning them up on some kind of bulletin board in order: that way, you can easily move the scenes around to come up with the strongest skeleton for your novel.

So what comes next?

Easy. In my own experience, this method works best because my mental process tends to work from big picture, to small. So I imagine the basis of the plot (theme, main character arcs and motivations, etc). But when it comes to knowing what the characters are going to do between those scenes (smaller arcs, reactions, dialogue, etc), I tend not to know until I'm actually writing.

Think of your index cards as your outline. The most basic outline of your novel. Once you have those stepping stones in place, you can begin filling in the blanks with pebbles.

In this case, pebbles = details. Once you don't have to worry about the big picture (the main plot points), your brain might be more willing to focus on the smaller things. Think of it this way: you can't connect the dots before you have any dots to connect. Bob has to get to the store before he runs into his old flame, and odds are none of ya'll knew he was going to run into his flame until he actually got to the store.

I'm the kind of person who doesn't know what's going to happen until I actually write it, which is why this method works for me. All I need to know is where the character's going: they're walking from point A to point B, but anything can happen in between. It helps me keep an open mind, which allows my characters (in my opinion) to come off as more natural and individual beings.

So, that's my plotting process. If you're having difficulties with your novel, I invite you to try it out (check out that post I linked to for a more in-depth explanation on exactly how I use the index cards and bulletin board). Admittedly, though, if you're the kind of writer who has to have an extremely detailed outline of the entire novel before starting to write (which, honestly, I envy those of ya'll who can do that), then perhaps this method won't work so much.

In any case, there you have it: how to look at your novel from the big picture to the small and why I think it's useful.

Let me know what you think, and I'd love to hear other outlining processes if ya'll have 'em.

Tweet It:

Blogger @Rae_Slater explains her outlining process: index cards, and looking at the big picture before the details (Click to Tweet)

Sometimes, taking a look at the big picture of your novel now can help you figure the details later (Click to Tweet)


  1. Excellent post! I love that you call it a "murder board"! :) Thanks for sharing, dear!

    Briana | The Novelista

    1. Thanks, Briana! Haha, yeah, my family has an interesting sense of humor, but ever since I haven't been able to call it anything different.