The Writing Process: Outlining Your Story

I am currently waiting for my first draft of my first ever manuscript to arrive in the mail. I will still have awhile before I can actually read it and edit it. I saw it as a tip somewhere that this is a perfect time to begin your next story. I quickly put together this outline for my next story on Sunday. I have started working on it and am at about 2500 words. You should use this outline as a guide for yourself. I believe that from this simple outline, I will reach the 80000 to 100000 word count.

Do know that you never have to use everything you write in your outline, it is simply just a way to create boundaries for your brain. It gives your ideas some order, but still allows for creativity. Your process may be different. I just hope seeing my process helps you figure out your process, whether that is this being helpful, or an example of a way you’d never want to write. Under each part of my actual outline, I have wrote out tips on why they work for me.

  • Main Character: Jack

This seems very uninspired. Jack, such a simple name. If I find it to be too boring, I can always change it.

  • Setting: Small Town Indiana
    • Brooklyn

I am from Indiana. One day I was driving through the country and discovered Brooklyn, Indiana. A very small town about 20 miles outside of Indianapolis. I fell in love with it. Write what you know! 

My last story I used a futuristic setting. I found it very hard to describe a place I’d never been too. Using a place that I am somewhat familiar with will make it easier for me to give my readers the vision inside of my head.

  • Plot: The story is a psychological thriller. Jack has a very troubled mind. It starts off calm, but as the story progresses, his mental stability deteriorates further. Jack kills people but doesn’t know it. The town is terrified about the serial killer loose in their town. Jack is also concerned. Jack doesn’t know that he is the killer because of his personality disorder. Jack has five personalities, each are seen individually in the first few chapters. Jack suffers from undiagnosed social paranoia, depression, and bipolar. Each of his personalities have their own way of dealing with these. The story tells each side of Jack and once the reader knows them as different people, they are introduced as one. Once the climax of Jack realizing that he is the killer is reached, Jack has to do something about it. He contemplates turning himself in, but knows he would never make it in prison. He tries to tell his mom, who has been heavily featured in the story, but she threatens to turn him in. He has to take action. Jack tells other people, maybe a girlfriend, or a best friend, and the same thing happens. Each person he tells has their own chapter. After this, the police catch on to who the killer is. Jack knows they have. One chapter is devoted to the cat and mouse of Jack and the Police. The final chapter has Jack surrounded by the police. There is no way out. Jack thinks long about death and the reader is taken to a dark place on the subject of death. Jack kills himself.

I have recently been struggling with some strong emotions. My life has been going through a lot of changes. Both positive and negative, you know, normal stuff. I used to always want to be a writer and my recent attempts at doing it has been driven because it is a coping device for me. Plus, no one wants to hear me whine on Facebook! I figured that I could describe some of my feelings through Jack’s mental struggles. I am not at all a serial killer, but there has to be a story. Talking about mental disorders and having no conflict is a psychology textbook, not a story. Again, write what you know!

  • Jack’s personalities:
    • Jack
      • Jack is an average 19-year-old kid. He graduated high school but hasn’t done much since. He only has one friend. He has a girlfriend, but she is also interested in dating around. Jack is lonely. Jack often confides in his mother, she has always been there for him. Jack is a nice person, mostly friendly when he wanted to be.
    • John
      • John is confident. He lacks inhibition that would keep him from being so bold.
    • Joseph
      • Joseph is a very conservative political young man. He believes in the superiority of the white race. Joe likes the rebel flag and all things that represent white male masculinity.
    • Jason
      • Jason is a very liberal political young man. He believes in equal rights across the board. Jason is a social justice warrior.
    • Devin
      • Devin is a psychopath. He is the one killing people.

These are vague on purpose. I will probably hash them out while I am in the process of writing. 

  • Jack’s personalities are private. No one knows about them but him, that is why they are represented to the reader as other people. They interact with the townsfolk, but it is never given away that they are the same people. No description of their physical characteristics should be told.

You have to explain everything to your reader and therefore you must understand your world’s physics. If your world is normal, then you should be able to explain why things are happening and base it in reality.

  • The story should start with Jack. He is just trying to figure out his place in the world. The whole town knows Jack. His interactions should be basic. Going to the store, walking around town with his friend. Hanging out with his girlfriend. Slowly reveal the mental issues he struggles with. Do this by having a scene where he can’t interact in a simple social setting. Drag them out a bit too. For bipolar, he should be very depressed and self-depreciating, then he should be very energetic. This could be shown by him having a very great idea that he has to do right now, followed by feeling like a complete loser shortly after. This chapter should be very simple, lay out the town, some people in it, and build the background characters up.

This is new for me. At the end of my first novel I kind of started winging it. I feel like having an idea of how your chapters are going to flow will be very helpful when you get to the last few thousand words.

  • Background characters:
    • Justin Smith: Jack’s best friend.
    • Sarah Jones: Jack’s girlfriend
    • Sheriff Jones: Town sheriff and Sarah’s step-father
    • Meagan Porter: Jack’s mom

Again, very generic names. First off, it’s small town USA. Second, I’ve never been able to name anything. Should have seen me trying to name my fictional characters in video games.

  • John’s chapter
    • John goes out in public and does something bold. Something that Jack would never consider doing. John’s friends subtly question his actions.
  • Joseph’s chapter:
    • Joseph is introduced as the stereotypical conservative character. He has built a shelter in Jack’s basement for the end of the world. He has a collection of automatic weapons. He is a survival nut. He listens to alt-right talk shows and takes every word they say as scripture.
  • Jason’s chapter:
    • Jason has been following the serial killer news story very closely. He can’t understand that why there are never talks of gun control when things like this happen. He is obsessed with following the news and it makes him cripplingly angry that the world is so harsh.
  • Devin:
    • Devin is the combination of the other three personalities. He is overly confident, which allows him to kill without worrying about being caught. He struggles with Joseph and Jason’s conflicting views on morality. The reason that Devin kills is because he figures there is no right answer and the world is fucked anyways. Devin should be the embodiment of current state of politics. There is a clear line and only one side on each. Devin lacks the ability to think critically. Since each side believes in their views 100%, Devin knows that they both can’t be right. Having no way to find neutral ground, Devin is determined to kill all people so that their can no longer be conflicting views. In a way, Devin just wants a better world, but he really could have went about it in a different way.

I don’t know exactly how these will work, but at least the framework is set. When I am writing, I will probably stick very closely to what I laid out. Make a plan and stick to it!

  • Setting:
    • The place is real. Brooklyn, Indiana. There are low income families mixed with moderate families. The houses are small and old. Main street is one building. A river runs through the middle of the town. There is some places of small forest, perfect for hiding bodies. The Brooklyn cemetery would make a good setting. There is a police station with five cars that hardly ever move. A fire station is attached to the lone main street building. Bicycles often end up in Brooklyn as a place to stop on their journey somewhere else. The season should be fall. Brooklyn has a lot of foliage that would give the story a nice dynamic.

This setting is going to require some research. If you want your reader to see your setting, then you must also see your setting. There is no clearer way than actually going to the place if it is real. 

  • Justin Smith:
    • Justin grew up with Jack. He is 19 years old as well. He has a sense that Jack is experiencing some major mental issues, but he has never spoke up about it. Justin is a taller kid. He played varsity football in high school. He had a lot more friends than Jack did.
  • Sarah Jones:
    • Sarah was kind of into Jack. She thought he was a little weird though. They had been dating for 3 months. Jack thought she was more serious than she actually was. Sarah often flirted with Justin. She saw Jack as a way to get closer to Justin.
  • Sheriff Jones:
    • The sheriff is smart. He doesn’t like Jack. He is suspicious of how he has been acting lately. Jack acts slightly odd, so the reader can think that Jack is only one person.
  • Meagan Porter:
    • Jack’s mom works the night shift at the cafe in town. This doesn’t actually exist, but the story needs a place for people to meet at. She isn’t home during the night and sleeps most of the day. This gives Jack the perfect opportunity to roam in the night.

These are just loose guidelines to help me when I am talking about my background characters. It has been super helpful to me to have a basic description of them.

That is my outline. I hope it has helped you in any kind of way. Now get your fingers moving and write that bestselling novel!

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