How To Craft An Outline Guide
Alright, so this is a new idea for me and I thought it would be fun to share the process as I try to flesh it out. I’m not sure if this will be one post or two. We’ll see as I go along. It might be one of those projects that will require tweaking depending on the book it’s intended for.
So for starters, what is an outline guide? No clue. I haven’t come up with one yet. XD But I have an idea, a plan—or should I say, I have identified a problem while writing Hellcat and I’m seeking to craft a solution in this post for future books. Likely this will end up looking like a worksheet, a set of characteristics I want to pay attention to when crafting the outline and when approaching scenes, chapter and ‘events.’
Hellcat started off very different from anything I wrote before. I mean, not the initial outline I wrote over a year ago, that was the same old smut summary I understood. But I had tried out one of those how to outline books and Hellcat was my test. And fuck, it failed.
A word on failure—it is magnificent
It’s only when something gets fucked up that you start paying attention to it. It forces you to see something that before you just breezed through. I started Hellcat wanting to make a book that had stronger action in it than normal for me. I wanted to make a cute, quirky world where it wasn’t just the same old magic in the real world kind of thing. I wanted to add details that would flesh it out as unique. Unfortunately, that first draft failed to engage the characters and instead led them down a path. It was predictable, free of emotional conflict, and very little heat or tension. Although the plot itself offered conflict, the characters didn’t.
I have gone back (this being the third pass) to get Hellcat to actually ‘feel’ the way I want it to feel. It wasn’t a Sadie Sins book, it was barely a romance, even less an erotica. The characters were flat, and everything was action focused. No one was allowed to develop and grow and just exist in the world, they were pushed unceasingly forward by the plot. I noticed that the characters were all about reaction to the plot instead of reacting to their feelings about how the world was changing. What I did like was the action was strong, it pushed the plot forward, and the world itself was developed and quirky. I had a structure but no life in it.
Usually I write books with a character focus. The plot exists to be the foil to keep the characters apart and at each other’s throats until they finally fall in love and bed. But I wanted to try something different (or so I thought. XD) I wanted a more developed set of events that would surprise the reader, not just have it all be character drama, and I wanted those world building characteristics without a ton of exposition. By the time I finished the first Hellcat draft I also identified I wanted characters with clear motivation, I wanted their actions to be honest to their motivations instead of to the plot events, I wanted a stronger focus on the romance aspect, and I wanted way more heat. I decided Hellcat was going to be a XXX novel. I never wrote one before and it was fucking time. Take a failure and make it spectacular.
So, if I were to identify and group the elements of the story that really stood out as lacking or complete, it would look something like this.
Event Driven Plot:
Events happening in the structure of the story. These events happen no matter how the character feels about it—this is the body being discovered in a murder mystery, or the landlord coming in to evict the main character, or an ex showing up to make life difficult. The night and storm in a dark, stormy night. These are plot points that create a structure of events that keep a story together and the characters moving. It’s also where we world build. We can’t have events in a world that doesn’t exist, so all those things that define the nature of the world and setting in the story are found in this aspect of the plot. This is the basic structure of the entire book, as well as each event and each setting.
Character Driven Plot:
The soap opera effect. While the event driven plot gets the characters together into a room, the character driven plot is what makes them argue, or try to escape, or look for clues, etc. It’s the characters’ motivation, back story, growth and evolution. Characters can react to the Event driven plot—sometimes events are too big not to. But characters show their true selves when they’re reacting to the character driven plot. When their emotions, their past, their hopes and fears for the future make their decisions even when the world is crumbling around them. Each character driven plot will be unique depending on the character, aka, there will be multiple character driven plots in one story and they may vary depending on the events around them.
Romance Driven Plot:
This is specifically for romances and erotica, naturally, where the sexual tension is so important it needs to be plotted. It goes hand in hand with the character driven plot but with a focus, the push and pull between certain characters on an emotional and sexual level. Things to focus on would be how theses characters interact when together, and how they think of each other when apart. How the motivations and actions of the characters vary because of the romance driven plot. Sexual heat in the interactions. Each romance driven plot will be dependent on the characters involved in the romance. This means there can be more than one romance driven plot in a story—especially if you write multi. <3
So for the types of stories I write, I have three plot threads to juggle throughout a novel, or even a short story. The Event Driven Plot is the structure. It is the most basic world, as well as those plot points that force the characters forward. The Character Driven Plot is the motivation of each character as they not only react to the Event Driven Plot but create their own chaos based in their emotions, past, and future goals. Then there is the Romance Driven Plot, closely related to that Character Driven Plot but with a focus on certain character interactions. This ensures that the romantic interests don’t solve their problems and start getting too clingy and lose conflict before we get to the climax of a book. There is nothing more boring in a romance than a Romantic Driven Plot being concluded in the first chapter and then the rest of the book being all Event Driven. Hell, there’s nothing more boring than characters always getting along in a book and depending on the events alone to create conflict. Anywho…
The outline guide
So I’ve identified three threads of plot that are required to craft a strong story but how to approach from here? I think the best place to start would be the Event Driven Plot.
Plot the structure of the story. These are the events, the moments that are going to have readers on the edge of their seat and force the plot forward. This is what pulls your characters away from their jobs, their daily routine and comfortable couches to go and do something. Because I usually ignore this aspect and just have it be a foil for the character development, I think it’s the best place for me to start seeing as it’s the place I need work. I want to kick around and build a world, craft unique elements, give it a structure different from what I have before. I want to get in the habit of each story world being unique. And these could be multiple worlds in one story: your main character’s house and his/her world as he/she knows it. The villain’s world and the different aspects of that. The dark alley in the questionable part of town—each setting can be its own world, different rules of how characters act, etc. Having a focus on just this aspect of a story can give me really concrete, fun elements to build the characters on top of.
Second step would be to rough out the Romance Driven Plot. Examples would be plotting when the second character (our love interest) shows up, how they first interact, events as to how their interactions play out through out the other events happening in the background. A structure to ensure that we don’t resolve the romance aspect until near the end. Depending on intended heat level, this would be where I decide how much sex, what kinks to focus on, and just how strong the focus will be on heat in this plot line. In Hellcat, I literally went in and added a ‘dick filter’ scene by scene to ensure that the story had enough heat to honestly call it a XXX novel. The sexual aspect became an element all its own, which for me is what a romance/erotica is all about.
Lastly, Character Driven Plot. Once I roughed out a vague outline of events and romance, I think then would be the time to go in to the first ‘event’ and flesh it out with the characters themselves. Craft their backstory, their immediate motivations starting the story, their inner demons and desires and all that on another page along with their description, and then put them in the world and let them do their thing. And their thing might make it so getting to that next ‘event’ happens far later or sooner than anticipated. Characters are unpredictable and that’s why I love character driven stories.
These characters have hopes, dreams, loves and this is how the story will be experienced, through them. Allow them to set the base for their world when the first Event Driven Plot point comes in and turns it all upside down. I think how Awakening was set up worked nicely; the hook and then introducing what ‘normal’ is for Evan right before throwing him into abnormal. Demon Arms started in the hook, that first event that set everything off.
I’m not a big fan of long intros with nothing happening. The beginning of a book requires a hook or you risk losing your readers before they start. I am one of those fucking picky readers who won’t go past the first chapter—sometimes the first few pages—if there is nothing of interest for me. So even when starting with a normal base moment in the characters’ day, I try to ensure it’s still holding some sort of conflict, something to make a reader wonder if the problem will be solved and what will happen next.
That said, you can always change the beginning at any time. An outline is a rough, it’s shaping and sculpting so you have a structure to work off where you flesh out and refine. It’s a structure that should be allowed to bend and twist to give you the story you really want to make. When you don’t become too attached to an idea, you’re allowed to change it to something even better.
Scene structure and/or ‘event’ structure
So I like the three threads of plot for the beginning of drafting the outline, but I want something for when I’m actually in each scene, something to keep me on track when fleshing it out. Basing off of above, I’m thinking these will be my questions:
What is the event conflict in this scene? What is the answer?
What is the romantic conflict in this scene? What is the answer?
What is the character conflict in this scene? What is the answer?
And some prompts:
You don’t actually want to solve conflicts in scenes, not till the end of the book. For the conflicts you do solve, they should be small steps in a bigger problem. Example: yes, the romantic interest is now willing to actually talk to our hero but he won’t date him. In a lot of ways, it’s like those murder mystery plots or thrillers even if it’s a romance. If all the conflicts are solved in the beginning, there’s no reason for a reader to hang around for the end.
I’m probably going to refine this sheet as I go along and see what really helps me. I want to make character sheets based off of the things I care about, not some ready made template as well.
An idea of what this scene guide might look like filled out for Scene #26 of Hellcat, which I’m currently writing today. You’re going to see more conflict resolution because this is the second to last scene in the book. An earlier scene will be mostly no answers.
What is the event conflict in this scene? Will Sean give in and take TJ?
What is the answer? Yes, finally.
What is the romantic conflict in this scene? Can Soot convince Sean that owning TJ is better than living without him?
What is the answer? Yes, but TJ isn’t on board with being a pet.
What is the character conflict in this scene? Can Sean win against his desire for TJ? Can TJ break free?
What is the answer? Nope and nope. He loses repeatedly. <3
World building—Top floor of Mystic Highrise. Demon characteristics Sean gains—is it the fever or him? Soot can have tentacle hair! XD Tiled floor, there’s a dragon’s corpse and a fluffy kitten running around somewhere (don’t forget to bring the kitten home!) We may have to consider a time limit, potential interruptions. Gargoyles outside the window, witches floors below who will eventually wonder why Divia isn’t responding… Oh, Divia had a dinner date after her work day. Maybe an intro to a potential villain in book 2?
TJ’s confused. Doesn’t like that Sean is siding with a demon when they’ve been friends forever, but more overwhelmed currently with Sean coming onto him sexually. TJ is ever forgiving to a fault, but we see signs he’s more into Sean than he’s willing to face.
Sean’s horny, heart broken, and reaching a mental place where nothing fucking matters to him but having TJ in his life—even if TJ hates him for it. What’s the point of having magic if you can’t get what you want? There is a cure to his TJ issue and it’s as simple as changing TJ into a demon thrall. It’s probably the worst line he can cross, but Sean can’t help himself. He’s tired of losing.
Soot/Fides wants Sean to be happy. He’s claimed his mate, he understands that Sean comes with baggage—a whimpering, jealous, totally shy TJ—and he doesn’t want Sean moping. Humans over-complicate things and he’s happy to fix things to where if Sean wins TJ, he’ll be in Soot’s debt forever. Useful when dealing with a strong-willed pet like Sean.
Heat—XXX dubcon straight into noncon, first time, straight to gay, multi, double penetration, bdsm… possibly mild humiliation depending on Sean’s mood. Sean grows more aggressive with each line he crosses, Soot’s encouragement, and TJ’s surprising responses. This interaction is going to set the tone for book 2, so make sure it’s not resolved. TJ gives in but he’s not won.
I like the feel of it. If I actually bothered to make a setting and character sheet, I could ensure I flesh out more of the setting–cuz I’m so lazy with setting and descriptions. XD Also realizing that the ‘event’ conflict just feels more like the main conflict in a scene lacking the emotional trapping. The point of the scene in general. Outline wise it will be different but this feels right. The point of the scene and then the character and romantic conflicts included. I’m going to give this a go for a few stories and see what I do with it.
I hope this post might help anyone trying to figure out how to keep on track with their own writing. The things you want to focus on in a story might be completely different from me, but you don’t know until you really go into your story and see what feels lacking and what feels perfect. Identifying what you value in your writing can help make sure you get it right with each new story and stay on point. A little bit of work today can give you everything you want for the future. ^^