What Writers’ Outlines Really Look Like

First off: I’m supposed to be outlining the next bit of my webcomic, Kara the Brave. If you see my internal taskmaster, direct them… away. Stupid distractions that actually work include “What’s that over there?” and “Look, a distraction!” (My internal taskmaster isn’t all that clever.) Thanks. I really appreciate it.

Ok, so, now that we’ve got that covered, I wanted to bring to your attention an important topic. Well, two, because I’m efficient when I procrastinate. *awkward cough*

The first is the topic of outlining. Or plotting. Or whatever. I was talking to someone last week about writing, and she was wondering how much outlining she should do before she started the actual writing part of her story (also, it is weird as heck that people are asking me about writing and publishing advice now. I think it’s because I have two books out or something and I disseminate information in a helpful matter. Or something. I don’t know. It’s still weird). I tried to explain how outlining is used in real life, but I don’t think I got it out right. But, today, I came across something that might help.

Now, some writers go nuts when it comes to outlining. Heavens knows I have. The first novel I ever attempted rang in at just under 25,000 words (so, not a novel), and the outline I wrote for it beforehand was 13 pages. I basically wrote the story twice, just with more words the second time. It was an awful idea. I never want to do that again. No, I take that back. It was a great idea for me at that time, to help me figure out the story. Now? It’s just too much darn work, and I can do a lot of planning while in the midst of writing, so it’s unnecessary. Like I said, I never want to do it again.

Some other writers avoid outlining like it’s the LD50 of their least favourite toxin. (Can one have a favourite toxin? I’m rather fond of MSG, myself, if that counts.) They’ll sit down with absolutely no plan and just write until they’re done, no matter how many wrong turns and course corrections occur along the way. They fly by the seat of their pants, so to speak. I’ve done that for a number of short stories and poems. You know, things that are short enough to keep in your head. It’s fun, but not something I’d want to do with a novel except as an experiment.

So, how much outlining is enough? What should the outline look like? How do I know that my outline is doing its job? What kind of information must my outline include if I am to write the story properly?

I have no effing clue.

And, to show exactly why I have no effing clue, I will now present you with the second topic, which are the actual outlines I have for all the story arcs planned for Kara the Brave (minus spoilers). These are the actual outlines I am working from, which hold everything I need to remember what I want for the stories at this point in time.

Prepare yourself. This is, like, serious and stuff.

Kara the Brave and Subsequent Outlines

Kara the Brave: 11 years old.
Salamanders ask Kara to get a flower for them that’s on a floating rock and guarded by a [spoiler, but only if you aren’t caught up yet]. Kara [spoiler] and has to face what she really fears in order to be a hero.

Ok, so this is decent. It has a plot, motivation. It’s still only two sentences, but it has all the things you’d think are necessary in an outline. So far so good.

Kara the Aquatic: 12 years old.
Mermaids are involved. Also a seal. And a jewel. Kara gains the ability to breathe underwater and swim like a mermaid in order to complete her task.

Wait. What task? What does the seal have to do with anything? What does anything have to do with anything? WHY ARE THERE SENTENCE FRAGMENTS?

Kara the Subterranean: 13 years old.
Kara goes underground and stumbles into creatures. Shenanigans. She has to help fix things.

“Creatures”? “Shenanigans”? “Things”? Really? That’s as specific as you’re going to get?

Kara the Mercurial: 14 years old.
Kara meets another girl who does stuff with fantastical creatures. They end up flying. A quip is made about the effectiveness of the wax wings given to them by fantastical creatures.

This isn’t a plot. This is an extended setup for a punchline referencing Greek mythology.

Kara the Incandescent: 15 years old.
Fire things. Also moving. Kara and her friend team up to save a village of fire things. She ends up in pitched battle with a thing, using her wooden sword.

What does moving have to do with any of this? And why is everything a “thing”? Ugh. At least this one has a plot. Somewhat. Half of one.

Kara the Unshakeable: 16 years old.
Bison creatures. They live in the school. There are nasty classmates and concerned parents. [spoiler]

I would be concerned, too, if there were bison creatures that could magically fit through doors. Not to mention the entire lack of plot everywhere in this outline.

Kara the Empyrean: 17 years old.

How is this an outline?

Kara the Lambent: 18 years old.

Seriously. How is this an outline?

Kara the Telluric: 19 years old.

…I give up.

Kara the Hero: 20 years old.
Spring. A creature comes to make trouble for Kara’s prairie home. She saves everyone. Fear goggles get used, plus some extra gadgets added to them.

WHO CARES WHAT SEASON IT IS?!?!? Also, “creature”? That’s it? That’s all? *throws table*

I’m not even going to talk about how I don’t remember what “empyrean”, “lambent”, or “telluric” mean anymore. I’m sure they’re all important. I just haven’t a clue why. Some days, I’m just too smart for my own good. Ugh.

To Sum it All up

Q: “How should I outline?”
A: “However the heck you want.”
Q: “But I want to know what I’m doing.”
A: “Honey, trust me. No one knows what they’re doing. Just make something up and hope it works. That’s what everyone else is doing and, for some reason, people give us money for it.”

If you’re interested in how I turn these bottom-feeding awful outlines into actual comics (I’m not sure why you would, now that you’ve read them with your own, probably bleeding, eyes), start with the first strip of Kara the Brave. It updates every other Saturday. This is one of those Saturdays. If I finish on time, that is. *sneaks back in place before taskmaster can tell anything’s changed*

*whispers* Catch you on the flip side!


Awful Outlines, the Sequel

Erica's Story (WIP title) | The Books of Bílo (WIP title) #1
First draft 29%
Hunter and Prey | White Changeling #3
First draft 100%

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