Thursday, June 28, 2012

Free Your Mind With An Outline

Writing is hard. There, that's out of the way. This isn't going to be a post about a writer's struggle. It's a post about making your writing easier.

Free your mind, and the book will follow. How do you do that? With an outline, of course.

Some may argue just the opposite. Pantsers (those who shun outlining) posit that having an outline takes the writer's freedom away and restrains creativity. To that, I say, "Pffft." Creativity is in the outlining process. There have been countless times that I've had a whopper of an idea but decided to write it out instead of outlining. It usually ended up DOA. That's how many of my novels have started and died. Bless their hearts.

With an outline, I can be as creative as I want to be in short phrases. In the outline itself, several words describe a scene. Boom! Scene finished. Once the outline is complete, it becomes a living thing, changing to accomodate my fluctuating intentions as I write within the creative structure that I've imagined in the outline.

This isn't meant to be disparaging to the pantsers out there. If you're successful with no outline, go for it. Write your pants off. Do what you do. For someone like me whose closeted skeletons exist alongside the dessicated corpses of so many novels, an outline has been the jaws of life, extracting novels one happy accident at a time.

Plot outlines, however, don't occur in nature. You create them. The trick is finding which one best suits your needs. Some may use the tried-and-true I, II, III, etc. method, which reminds me too much of high school. Others use bullet points or spreadsheets. The spreadsheet method is intense but effective.

I prefer something that is efficient and fun to use at the same time. I've found that the FreeMind software program works best for me. (It's free!) It's mindmapping software that allows me to start out using thought clouds that have no real structure. That's how I brainstorm. But, when I'm ready, I can format my thoughts to use as an outline using FreeMind.

I start with a large circle in the center, which is usually the working title of my novel. On the left hand side goes the Plot Summary, Major Characters, Minor Characters, Concepts, and Places bubbles. To the right are chapter bubbles. Each bubble branches out however you want. For example, I break each Chapter bubble down to scenes and then down further into micro-scenes. On the left, the Character bubble is broken down into a branch for each character. Each character, then, has branches for important character information.

The best part about using the FreeMind software is that I get to take it with me. When I'm at home, I upload my FreeMind file into Dropbox, which I also have installed on my smart phone. On my Android phone, I use Thinking Space Pro (now called Mindjet). That allows me to access my FreeMind outline from my phone. So, if I have an idea that needs to go into my outline, a couple of screen taps is all it takes.

Do any of you have ideas to make novel outlining less complicated? Please leave me a comment below and let me know.

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