“Sometime, an idea pops up in my mind, but I don’t know how to write it out.”
“I have a fragment of a story, but I don’t know how to write it out.”
“I want to be a writer, but I don’t know how to start.”
Have you faced struggles like these while writing? Don’t worry if you have been or are in such a situation now. Even the most seasoned writers can run into these (or similar) problems.
Katherine Z, the author of Obsession with My Forced Wife, once told her editor: “I was not sure what story I wanted to tell at the beginning. I just wrote out all the scattered ideas in my mind to see what story I could piece up with them. The ideas were like pieces of a puzzle. When I pieced out a clear picture in my mind with them, I got a story outline. At that time, I clearly felt that my story was calling me.”
There is an important message in her words: turning ideas into an outline is the first step in writing. This article will take Obsession with My Forced Wife as an example to indicate the three steps of creating an initial outline.
Step 1: Write Down Your Ideas
Great stories are born with original ideas. Writers can create unique outlines with some common or simple ideas. When ideas strike your heart and excite you, you can write down all of them. These should include, but not limited to, characters, timelines, and scenes.
According to Katherine Z, the following items are what she originally wrote down for Obsession with My Forced Wife:
1. Lance, a young and handsome billionaire, was forced to marry Evelyn, a woman from the family for which he had a hatred.
2. Lance met a woman who attracted him at a party, but then he found out that the woman was Evelyn.
Step 2: Turn the Ideas into a Plot
There are many definitions for what a plot is. One of them describes a plot as the sequence of events that can arouse readers’ interest and bring suspense through the principle of cause-and-effect.
Back to Katherine’s story, although she only had two ideas at that time, she was still able to create an outline. Step 2 is to draw a plot with these ideas like this: Evelyn learned that she was being forced to marry Lance — Lance learned that he was being forced to marry Evelyn — Lance and Evelyn attended the same dance party. Lance was attracted to Evelyn before he discovered her identity.
This does not look like an outline yet. To refine it, there are 4 questions that need to consider:
Q1: What was the situation like when Evelyn learned that she must marry Lance? What was her reaction?
A1: Lance hated Evelyn’s family, the McLean family. Therefore, no woman from the McLean family would be willing to marry him. If they did, Lance would likely make their life a living Hell. Are there any other women in the McLean family? There should be. Then, let the one who should have been the bride run away, so poor Evelyn would have to marry Lance instead.
Q2: What was the situation like when Lance learned that he must marry Evelyn? What was his reaction?
A2: Lance was a powerful and arrogant billionaire. Few people could order him to do anything. As for the marriage, we must give Lance a reason not to refuse. What about his family? No matter how indifferent he was, he could not refuse a request from his beloved family. Let Lance’s beloved grandmother arrange the marriage for him.
Q3: Why did Lance hate the McLean family? What happened between the two families?
A3: Family hatred is always related to money or loss of life. The two families were once close, but something happened between them and turned them into enemies. Wait a minute. Was Lance already the head of the family? At such a young age? But where were his parents? It turns out that they died because of something that the McLean family did. Losing his parents caused Lance pain, and it influenced his personality.
Q4: How did they meet at the dance party?
A4: Family hatred is always related to money or loss of life. The two families were once close, but something happened between them and turned them into enemies. Wait a minute. Was Lance already the head of the family? At such a young age? But where were his parents? It turns out that they died because of something that the McLean family did. Losing his parents caused Lance pain, and it influenced his personality.
With the information added, the outline will look like this:
[Evelyn’s home] Evelyn’s sister, Debby, didn’t want to marry Lance, so she ran away. Evelyn was forced to become Lance’s fiancée.
[Lance’s home] Lance’s grandmother asked Lance to marry Evelyn McLean. Lance hated the McLean family, but he could not refuse his dear grandmother.
[Dance party] Lance and his friend Mikael came to a dance party. Lance got bored and went to the terrace where he met a beautiful woman. When Mikael came to find Lance, Lance pulled the woman into his arms, hiding behind the curtains to avoid his friend. The two were close to each other, and the atmosphere became quite intimate. The woman left shyly. Later, Lance discovered that the woman was Evelyn.
Step 3: Add Scenes, Characters, and Logic
With the first two steps, there is a basic plot for the outline. What to do next is to modify the outline with scenes, characters, and logic.
1. Add details to make the characters’ actions more logical.
2. Determine the characters who will be present in the scene.
3. Organize the outline by time.
The revised outline is as follow:
Scene 1: Evelyn’s house
Evelyn’s sister, Debby, was forced to marry Lance. To escape the terrible engagement, Debby eloped with her boyfriend.
Scene 2: Evelyn’s home
Evelyn’s uncle wanted to repair his relationship with Lance by forcing him to get married. Debby’s escape made him extremely angry. Evelyn’s father suggested giving up the engagement, but he was rejected by Evelyn’s domineering uncle, who decided to force Evelyn into marrying Lance. For the sake of the family, Evelyn had no choice but to accept this proposal.
Scene 3: Lance’s home
Lance’s grandmother asked Lance to marry Evelyn. Lance didn’t want to upset his grandmother, and he also needed the McLean family’s resources to develop his film business. Although Lance hated the forced marriage, he accepted it. Grandmother was thrilled, and she asked Lance to attend a dance party that Evelyn would attend.
Scene 4: Dance party
Lance attended the dance party with his good friend, Mikael. Mikael wanted to find Evelyn, and he teased Lance about the engagement. Lance didn’t want to meet Evelyn, though, so he went to the terrace to be alone.
Evelyn and her good friend, Genevieve, had also come to the party. Genevieve was curious about Evelyn’s fiancé, but Evelyn was depressed. Evelyn went to the terrace alone, and she saw a handsome man.
Mikael’s voice came, moving closer from inside the building. To avoid Mikael, Lance pulled Evelyn into his arms, and they hid behind the curtains. The two were so close to each other that the atmosphere became intimate. After Mikael left, Genevieve came to find Evelyn, and Evelyn hurried away. Later, Lance found out that the mysterious woman was Evelyn, his fiancée.
So far, there is an outline that writers can start a story. However, every writer has different writing habits. When they create outlines, the details may vary. That being said, some things are universal. Initial outlines must:
1. Give the background of the story and explain the friction between the protagonists.
2. Introduce the protagonists.
3. Express the characteristics of the protagonists.
4. Pave the way for what will happen next.
This is the brief process of creating an outline. Do you have any different approaches that you use to outlining? Do you want to share your experience of designing outlines? There is a discussion in the Stary Writing Academy Facebook group, joining to discuss with more than 70,000 writers! Meanwhile, you can share your compelling outline in the Stary Writing Camp!