When I found out that James Patterson, the most prolific and successful author of our time, was holding a writing class, I was all in.The outline is the most creative part of writing your novel, and sometimes, James says, he writes several different outlines for the same story before he decides how it will all work out. He can be working on an outline for months before he is happy with it.
Before you start the outline, you need the raw idea. This is a one-paragraph summary of your story, and if your story is to succeed, the idea has to be something more than a little disparate, create tension and conflict, and should grab readers' attention from the start.
Here's the idea for my upcoming novel, 'Virgo's Variant':
Cinematographer Lexie King is determined to break free from the drugs, and psychoses that haunt her as a result of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. She signs up as one of the camera operators for a new reality show set in Africa, knowing that it will be totally out of her comfort zone. It is too late for her to quit the assignment when she discovers that one of the contestants is the man who abused her, The producer has dropped her and the other camera operator, with the twelve contestants, in a remote region somewhere in Africa with no means of communication. The producer dies, and the only person who knows where they are is the pilot who dropped them there, who is away on his honeymoon. Rumor has it that all the local inhabitants have abandoned their villages because a monster roams the region. Then the murders start, and the only person Lexie trusts is the cowboy, but could she be wrong? He is certainly physically strong enough to be the murderer.
So my next task is to write an outline. This is a summary of each chapter, with one or two paragraphs per chapter. Every chapter is a new scene, and should contain something that propels the story forward and adds a new twist.
Once the outline is all written up -- and typing it out in Word works for me -- you can go back over the scenes and experiment. Add new twists, reorganize the order of events, make notes for future reference, add something to create more suspense, and make a note of how the events affect the personal lives of each character.
Here you will edit, edit and edit again before you go any further.
The one thing I did notice about the outline is that, without dialogue or the internal conflict and thoughts of the characters, it's pretty blah, but that all comes later, and James goes over the do's and don'ts of dialogue and creating conflict in some detail.
Only when you are completely happy with your outline should you start the novel, which will flow easily now that you know how the story progresses. I used to be a pantser, but now I know better.My greatest problem with this particular novel was that I had already written it before the classes with James, and it was with my publisher, Soul Mate Publishing. I received the first edit from them soon after completing the course. I found that with the outline, I was able to do a lot of editing that I probably wouldn't have done before. I cut out a lot of unnecessary explanations and changed some of the events. (Show don't tell). I also ended up with double the number of chapters I originally started with, because short one-scene chapters make the story move at a faster pace, and if your story drags, your readers will lose interest.
If you are interested in taking the class, here is a link: James Patterson Teaches Writing