5 Minutes a Day: Outlining Your Story

Sometimes I outline. Sometimes I pants.  Admittedly, I pants most often on short pieces, especially nonfiction.  Longer nonfiction has an outline but it isn’t very complete.  I am definitely outlining my current fiction project because it is a mystery and an adult mystery at that.  There is no way I’ll manage to keep it all straight without an outline.

So how do you go about creating an outline in 5 minutes?  You don’t.  Instead you work on it in 5 minute increments.  It isn’t as hard as you might think.  I just completed #2 below and I already have 15 scenes.

  1. Do you have the turning points or big moments in your story?  Jot those down in chronological order.
  2. Do your turning points have complications?  Add those in at the appropriate points in time.
  3. What about things that happened before your story? The essential bits of character back story.  This can help you determine why one character doesn’t trust another and, essential in a mystery, the reasons for all the mistrust. Go ahead and jot those scenes down too in the order in which they happened.  No, they may not all become scenes but that’s okay.  Keep track of them along with your scenes.
  4. Take a good luck at your pivotal scenes.  What is likely to happen before this?  After this?  Write it down.
  5. In my case, I’m working on a mystery.  I need to add the murders events in as well as they fit within the larger timelines.  No, I may not write any of them up, but I need to keep track of them within the larger structure.
  6. Starting from the top, see where you have too great a gap between one scene and the next.  Ask yourself questions to fill them in.

Admittedly I have a love/hate relationship with outlining fiction.  I worry that it will destroy any spontaneity but I also have to acknowledge that especially with a mystery this is essential.

–SueBE