Creating a Flexible Outline for Your Novel | Lindsey Backen | Skillshare

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Creating a Flexible Outline for Your Novel

teacher avatar Lindsey Backen, Bringing Stories to Life

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Introduction to Creating a Flexible Outline


    • 2.

      Plotter or Panster?


    • 3.

      Gather Your Supplies


    • 4.

      Basic Plotline


    • 5.

      Secondary Plotlines


    • 6.

      Core Goal and Scene Motive


    • 7.

      Adding Details


    • 8.

      Clearing the Line


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About This Class

In this class, you will learn how to create a stylish timeline for your novel or writing project that allows you to organize layers of details without cluttering up your outline. By using sticky notes and string, you can keep yourself on track while still being able to make changes, hone, or even reinvent your plot as you write. It's the perfect combination of "plotting" and "pansting" no matter if you're working on a paper or that novel you've always wanted to write.

Meet Your Teacher

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Lindsey Backen

Bringing Stories to Life

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction to Creating a Flexible Outline: Hello, I'm Lindsay back in, and I am a writer and also an actress. Today I'm going to show you how I developed a system for a flexible plot line that I use to help me keep track of the details of my story while also adding in the ability to change things. I started writing books when I was 12 years old, and by the time I was 15 I realized that that is what I wanted to do with my life. However, I also had a competing interest in that I wanted to be an actress, and as I got older and studied the art of acting, I realized that I was using a lot of techniques that I learned from acting to infuse in my writing and bringing characters to life. This is my first book. I published it in 2016. I also took inspiration from the house that I live in which my family built in 1902 and wrote a book called Across the Distance, which is a time travel between a modern day girl and a girl that lives there in 1912. I've also worked as a play right producing several local place helping other people with their editing, their layout. And I've even done some ghost Friday work. So I had a lot of experience in learning what works and what doesn't work. And also in just learning what it takes to discipline yourself, to sit down and work on a schedule, an approach, your writing with the same seriousness that you would approach any other career or job, I decided I wanted to show you the system that I came up with. That helps me keep track of a plot life, which gives me the perfect balance I need between being a plotting writer and a pan stir writer. 2. Plotter or Panster?: now in the writing world, there are two kinds of writers we lovingly call them hamsters or plotters. Pan stirs like to write whatever comes to them whenever it comes. They don't like being held in by structure plotters. On the other hand, like a lot of structure, some bloggers do just general outlines and maybe some character sketches. Other plotters have details about every single chapter. They know what's going to happen now on the far spectrum of pastors you've got. Oh, I don't know. I'll see where the muse takes me. The good thing about that is that Pastor Zahra better overriding their initial fears about writing. They can sit down and allow their first draft to be sloppy and see what comes and just create. And then they go back in and revise and clean things up. Now, at the farthest spectrum of plotters you have the plotters who are like I am God and wont to any character deviates from my flat, so I tend to often be a pan stir when it comes to my first draft. But I found over the years that it becomes really hard about 3/4 of the way into the book when the storylines are all mingling and I have multiple storylines in most of my novels. So I developed a system would you see behind me of string and sticky notes that make what I call a flexible plotline when I say a flexible plotline. It's exactly what it sounds. I tend to approach writing the way a detective would approach a crime scene. Maybe at the very beginning, I have a basic idea of who, what, where, and win. But I don't know all the details. And as I go through the draft, I consistently changed my viewpoint according to what I learned from the story to fit what actually happened. So the first draft, I tend to be really loose, and I let the story line deviate, but I like having the plot line, so I know which huge events I need to make sure that I can hit every time. And if I find an event that doesn't work anymore with the plot line, I just take it out and adjust that part of the plot line. So this is an example of one of my former plot lines, and you can see it's quite complex in this, a lot of it. And there were about eight pages of this. Now this covers the entire series so you wouldn't ever want a novel this long. But that gives you kind of an idea of one of the things that I've done in the past that didn't really work for me. So I thought you guys would like to see what works for me. I tend to be right smack in the middle of plotting and pants stink. So I hope this will help you no matter what kind of right here you are. 3. Gather Your Supplies: So here I have my supplies. I have two different sizes of sticky notes. I have string a clip or even a paperclip. You can also use the tiny clothes pins if you have them, just use whatever you have on hand. You can make this as fun and elegant or as simple as possible. All right, so this is your moment. Look around your house and see how clever you can get in pulling the supplies you need. Remember, all you really need is string paper and something to stick them together. So if you end up having to use cards and tape, or maybe you are an up cycle in person, you can find a really clever idea for this. Just have fun with it. You see what you can. So here I'm using the's studio curtain. We're gonna clip it and then run the stream all the way across the It's all right. If there's a little bit of slack in the string, it actually will help with the artistic side of what we're doing with our storylines. 4. Basic Plotline: What, have you've never written a book before? Is there some magic of making a plot? Well, yes and no. There are actually proven plotlines and patterns that have been used throughout history to create a good story. So there's some basic expectations that your readers have that you want to make sure you keep in mind. Every basic plot has a character who has a problem. He usually tries to do something for the problem, and the problem gets worse. When the problem gets worse, he rises to the occasion, rallies, the troops comes into battle and you have the big climax. And then the solution. I, like all of my books toe, have a little bit of a twist and a little bit of maybe a plot line element that you're not expecting. I don't really go out of my way to make sure it happens, but I try not to stick to a set formula, which is the pants during me. There's a lot of characters, a lot of minor characters, a lot of cultural details and a lot off plotline to keep up with, especially with timelines when I have multiple things happening. But people are in the same spot, So I have to keep in mind. You know what, what's already happened over here and what's not. And I'm not a real detail oriented person. I don't have a good memory for the tiny details. I'm really doesn't those people that do? But I don't. So again, we came back to this, which is the system I came up with to help me make sure I include everything I went to include and can also change things as they go. If you have a lot of plus things that happened between, you may want to leave some space between the plot lines so that you have space to go in and fill details, as you know. But right now all we're looking for is the basic elements of the story. So here I have my basic plot line. This is the third book in a series, and the main character's name is heavier. He is a prophesized leader of a secret kingdom. So at the beginning of this book, he arrives at the kingdom and discovers that there's a sect of the kingdom who, when he didn't show up, chose another boy and raised him also to be king. So his first conflict is that he finds out he has a rival because the leaders are used to controlling the boy. When heavier takes his proper place, they start trying to manipulate him. So he works on gaining the trust of his people and also pushing back against the leaders. Then he finds out that his uncle, the king of the other country, has escaped. His uncle has abused him since he was a child. And so this adds a layer of difficulties on top of his current difficulties, both physical and emotional, because of what the leaders air doing in the kingdom to have your starts looking for a place that he can safely lead the citizens of the kingdom or let them go so that they are out of the fire of all every all the war that's going on. So he approaches his cousin Kael, who is the prince of the other country, looking for an alliance and looking for a safe place to lead. That ends up adding another layer of conflict, as Kael doesn't know anything about this kingdom. So not only is he feeling the betrayal of its cousin but it's also not sure whether or not that's that's going to be something that's going to affect his people. In the end, Heavier has to confront the king, his uncle. So around this area is where things go from bad to worse and heavier. Haas to make a final decision about if he's really going to embrace his role as king or if he's going to give in to fear and go the easier route. All right, so here we see the basic elements of a plot line where it's every year is presented with a problem. He begins finding solutions only to find this problem steadily compounds. Until there's this moment of I must make a decision. He must face the king. He must face the leaders, and he must take control. This is your moment of being a detective and being called on the scene, and someone's going. This happened, and we need to get to the bottom of it so you don't have to know all the details yet. Just do like the bare bones of your outline. All right, so now what you want to do is add the basic plot to your timeline when you get that done? Go ahead, snap a picture If you can't do a picture just right in the basic events of your plot and feel free to share with the class. 5. Secondary Plotlines: So now that you've got your main story line put in place, think about the smaller events that happened between the pieces. This would be a time that if you know more about the story line, go ahead, jot it down on your part and add it between the sections of the events wherever it goes on your timeline, you also might have a second timeline at a second time when a little bit difficult. It might be a parallel storyline. In my case, there was a revolt and the princes get separated from each other. And so there's actually there in three different places. So at one point in the story, you've got one prints here, one prints here, one prints here, but all of their events are happening simultaneously. And so that was really hard to keep up with how to order the book and also just how to make them interact with each other. What do they know has happened to each other? If you do a straight story line that gets really confusing, and so you can combat this by adding a second strength Now, the second string I can handle the quirks probably wouldn't put up here. You want to put them behind the character you're gonna put in the second story line, though can handle a second character Who's timeline is paralleling the own. And that way you see it, you can look at a glance and see the main events and how they are in your playing with each other. So now you see, I have a second line that goes underneath the main plot. If you live in a house where you are, you own it. You can just pin it to the wall. And if you can't do that, try actually clipping it onto a curtain I had found works pretty well. Little dip a little bit, but it won't leave any damage to your house. Now we have a second story line that runs parallel with this one. And this is about Toronto who was 10 years father trying to find what happened to his son. Gironde doesn't know anything about Sentara, and at the beginning he learns about it and is very concerned about this mysterious secret group that stole his son. So he decides to do something about it. Now, this is gonna kind of parallel te veers chapters is. So I'm probably gonna put it here so that I could see this will be a chapter, and then I would go right this one and come back up to here and this one's gonna sag a little bit As we go, we'll just have to deal with it. They usually have a souped up to the wall, and it's a lot more firm. This story. As the father's looking for his son, he ends up needing another person, that is, from Santora that left eight years ago and convinces that person to lead him into the secret kingdom and tell them where it's located. All this time, Tavernier have been told that he is dead, and he doesn't know that his father is looking for him. Said Tara. It's It's high and dangerous for outside people to come in because they believe that their borders are protected by fate, which is kind of into T that destroys people when they come in so 10 years. Not real thrilled, but at this point Toronto is captured by the centurion leaders. Somewhere around here, you see, I have a gap and then here they're going to join forces so At this point, it would actually be paralleling. So now we have the basic events of the story. But we want to really analyze the motives and the emotions and the back stories and all the little details that need to be included in each chapter. All right, so now if you have a secondary plot, go ahead and add that timeline underneath the current timeline you have. If you don't have a secondary plot, see if you can add a sub plot for a smaller character that you can. We, even those elements together with the main plot and go ahead and share with the class. 6. Core Goal and Scene Motive: I studied musical theater in college, and one of the things that I love to do when I'm developing a chapter or a story is finding not only the character's motives but their overall goal. And it would be easy to look at this time line and say, Well, 10 years goal is to become king. But you have to look a lot deeper than that and find out what actually drives heavier 10 years. Really. Goal is to be safe, to find somewhere where he's away from the abuse of his uncle, to find a place where he's not manipulated by the legend, by fate or by the leaders. He wants to take back his power, and he wants to feel safe, and that is going to be a theme that will drive through every single chapter. And when you find those goals, whether you're doing acting or writing, that is what brings a seeing to life. Whenever you are acting from your character's goal, you are going to make subtle, subconscious choices that will drive them toward the goal, and they will approach it differently than they would if you just approach the scene with a generalized gold The other thing you can do in the scene before you write it is to look at their overall goal. And then what is their goal? In this particular part of the story? Every single character will have some kind of goal, and it may not be the one that you think about on the surface. So one thing I like to do before I sit down to write and sometimes I can even put it on my timeline is jot down what is the overall goal of this character and then look at a specific plot. So here I would look, Tevye was found out. That the king has escaped with his first goal would be to kind of secure his kingdom and make sure that the king does not have access to his people. That's what I would think on the surface, and if I was approaching that part, that's what I would play it as. But there's no internal goal there. So again we go back to his overall theme of he wants to feel safe, and then we would look at the details of what's actually going on in this chapter. What are the physical events what is hiss physical goal. But what is his ultimate primal need that he's trying to fulfill in this part? So that is going to kick in? Is it? The fight doesn't go to a fight or flight instinct, and depending on whether he approaches this in a fighting or a flight, I don't know what he'll do. But when you take those needs into consideration and you break down the layers, he wants this. He wants this he wants is he wants this. You can always get it down to one driving basic need that humans have, and that will add another element into your story line and really surprise you with where it may take you and your writing. One of the videos I hope to do in the future is going to deal with this idea of breaking the story into overall goals, smaller goals and then really looking at what is going on in your pre existing scene and finding that primal need that your characters are trying to fulfill. So I have a sheet that I'm developing that helps walk me through that, and when I get it ready, I will put it up and let you guys see it 7. Adding Details: If you're writing a character driven novel, it's very likely that they own some important possessions that are very sentimental to them . Or you need a for lack of better word prop put somewhere in place so that they can have access to that whenever they needed in the storyline. What you want to do is think about the kinds of props that you need to incorporate. It can be a physical object. It can be a place. It could even be a minor character that comes in. But this would be the time to think about what details you need to add into you're chapters and put it on your card and stick it behind the part that it would go in. You can also do this if you know some really good quotes that you want to make sure are included, or if you know a bit of the story line that just came to you when you were working on something else and you jotted it down. And so now we have some elements of various kinds that need to be added into the storyline . I've written them on smaller notes so that they're easier to see at a glance if their details that need to happen between the stories so we don't want point to fulfill part of the older book, Heavier has to end up crossing a bridge. So at this point, I would go. When is he going to do that? And under what circumstances? I know that I would want that toe have been probably when he goes to confront the king because the whole series has been sort of building toward that conflict. I also know that whenever he goes, he needs to take the last train sword, which would be a prop. But that's not really a timeline thing, so I'm going to stick it behind the story, and that way it's there. But it's not cluttering up the timeline. I also know that two characters need to be re reunited with each other, and that would be part of Toronto story. So this would be here and again. This is a smaller element that happens during a larger plot problem, so I'm gonna stick it behind there. I know that Shannon don't, who is a Princess of the Secret Kingdom, needs to find her father because that is part of the prophecy. So at this point, I would look and go. I haven't actually planned that yet. In this version, I don't know where that's going to go, Um, but I would find the most likely place for that to happen. And that would actually probably happen a little bit here because there's a gap in timeline here where TV is regaining the trust of his people. But he's obviously got to be doing some stuff to actually regain that trust. So that's an event that we could work into the little gap between these two things, and then this is a choice. But it would happen at the beginning or end of a chapter. So this is something I would choose, uh, where Teoh do that. But I don't really have the confrontation yet, and so I would put it here and then realized I don't have a spot for it up here, so I would take a bigger plot line and go ahead and add that in whenever to Heavier and his father meat, because that's not part of my initial plot line right now. So you see, as you go, you can take things are down. Change things around and adapt it. Even if I start writing here and I discover all of the stuff I thought was gonna happen actually doesn't happen, I can just modify it as I go. All right, So now go ahead and add in all the details you can think of wherever they go in the plot. If you want to, you can break this into categories. You can do this one first. This one second this 1/3 and add them. Or you can just drop down whatever comes to your mind and stick it in where it goes after you're done, take another photograph and compare it to the first photograph you have. Some of you may be surprised to see there's not a lot of change because you've stuck the pictures behind it. And some of you might be really shocked at how much bigger your timeline has grown 8. Clearing the Line: This is the basics of how I do my plotline, and I've purposely kept it very simple. So you can see what I do without being overloaded with too many details about my actual plot. So just remember, you could make it as long as you need. You can add as many layers as you need, and you can also keep adding any details. You think about the need to go in a certain chapter or certain section behind here. And now, as I start writing, I'm able to quickly walk in and go, OK, what I'm working on today is this 1st 1 here so I can take all of the notes that I've put behind here and then order them as many as I need Teoh on the table where I'm working and put them in a sequence. And then I have my chapter outlined. The other thing it does is it actually takes off all of your pieces. And so, as you write, if you like that kind of tracking, you can take away the parts and you can see at a glance how much of the story line you have left. So now it's your turn get your own string at your plots. Take a picture of it so we can see the artistic elements you might use. We want to see what your timeline looks like. We want to hear a little bit about what your stories about, and we want to see if you came up with any great ideas that were not covered in this video while working on your timeline. So go ahead and share your final timeline with us and remember that it's never all the way done because you can always change it.