Considering the question: "How can I learn how to outline before I start to write?", I will give you the gist of the 'Architect' paradigm and how to go about it.
As an Architect, you start with the big picture and work out a
storyline and three-act structure.
A storyline is important as it will plant the seed of your novel's plot. It may range from a line to a couple more. Note: it doesn't have to be perfect. It is for your own track.
As soon as this is done, you create a synopsis which is derived by expanding the storyline; branching it out into a paragraph and hence into a complete three act structure which is quiet famous (or the five act structure if you want):
Almost always, you must have a synopsis to sell your novel. A synopsis is a
document roughly two pages long that describes your plot, and it’s an essential
part of your book’s sales process. To get an agent, or to sell your book to
a publisher, you need to write a query or a proposal. Either an agent or a publisher will want to see a
synopsis. Therefore, knowing how to write a good synopsis is mandatory for
Here are the basics:
- Write in third person.
- Write in present tense.
- Summarize your entire story in about two single-spaced pages. That gives you about 1,000 words.
Now you need to plan the three act structure of the Novel by expanding the synopsis into three major branches:
Expand the first sentence (the story setup) into a paragraph or two, describing the story backdrop.
Expand the second sentence (leading up to the first disaster) into about half a page.Use two or three paragraphs to tell how you’ll get to your crucial first disaster and the decision that defines your story question.
- Expand the third sentence (leading up to the second disaster) into another half page.
Again, use no more than three or four paragraphs to summarize the high points of the story. Don’t worry about glossing over details or ignoring some story threads. Cut to the bone.
- Expand the fourth sentence (leading up to the third disaster) into yet another half page. Once again, use no more than three or four paragraphs. Be brutal in leaving out details. The publisher does not care about those cool subplots
you cooked up; the publisher cares whether the main story works.
- Expand the fifth sentence (the ending) into three paragraphs that tell how the ending works out.
Once you have the three act structure ready, the real engineering of the novel begins-
A scene list helps you keep track of your scenes. To develop a scene list, you write a short summary of each scene. Managing all those summaries is challenging,so you can use a Spreadsheet to give each cell it's respective scene. I was an outliner. I used Ms-Excel.
Now, each scene can be either of the two types:
- Proactive: This type of scene includes a goal, a conflict, and a setback.
- Reactive: This type of scene includes a reaction, a dilemma, and a decision.
A little extra description:
- Goal: At the beginning of the scene, the POV character has some goal
that he hopes to achieve by the end of the scene.
- Conflict: During the middle of the scene, the POV character tries
repeatedly to achieve his goal, but he runs into obstacle after obstacle
as the scene unfolds.
- Setback: At the end of the scene, the POV character hits a nasty
Normally, he fails to reach his goal and is now worse off than he was
before. Occasionally, he achieves what he wanted, but something bad
happens to nullify this minor victory.
- Reaction: At the beginning of the reactive scene, the POV character is
reeling from the setback in the previous scene.
She spends some time reacting emotionally and finally gets control of
- Dilemma: During the middle of the reactive scene, the POV character
has to figure out what to do next.
If her setback was significant enough, then she has no good options. She
has a dilemma, and she must think hard to choose from the least-bad
- Decision: Eventually, the POV character makes a decision.
That provides her with a goal for her next scene, which is normally a
A proactive scene starts a character out with a goal, hits him with loads of
conflict, and then rocks him back with a setback. A reactive scene picks up
immediately afterward, taking that character through an emotional reaction,
then working him through an intellectual dilemma, and finally taking him to a
decision — to pursue a new goal.
This completes the basics of the outliner's job. Once done, you will need to concentrate on the dialogues, and action and the description. Although Outlining is a hectic job, It has it's advantage. But now, I am a snowflaker. And i'm happy with this paradigm shift. All the best!