The Outline, Mike Baron

THE OUTLINE

Why should you outline? There are several reasons. The first is to provide a road map for the story you intend to write. A good story is like a good pop song with a theme, a bridge, and a hook. Shifting dynamics. The outcome is always in question. If you were to portray your outline as a sine wave, it would look like a roller coaster ride. The outline doesn’t have to be exhaustive. My outlines range from two to ten pages. Ken Follett’s outlines are over a hundred pages. The reader must surprise himself if he is to surprise others, so the outline must contain wiggle room. The outline must reflect your protagonists’ personality and character, as well as those of other major figures.

Character is destiny. The reader wants someone with whom he can identify, unless you’re writing about a rogue, such as George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman. Even Flashman is charming. You enjoy his company even if you don’t want to be anywhere near him. Or the book has to be compelling, such as Pete Dexter’s Paris Trout, a novel about a despicable racist. A skilled novelist can make any protagonist compelling.

Just as a good song ends on a definitive note, such as The Beatles “A Day In the Life,” so should your outline indicate an end. But beware! Your characters will come alive and start dictating plot! When this happens, trust your characters.

The second purpose of the outline is to excite readers. The outline must be entertaining in and of itself. If you have written a dry recitation of events crammed with adjectives and qualifiers, throw it away! When the reader has read your outline, his reaction must be, “Holy shit! Where’s the book?”

Use your craft to bring that outline alive.