Wednesday, May 01, 2013

How I Outline

I have a pretty basic way on how I outline my stories. An outline helps keep you organized; even if you are constantly updating it, it acts as something you can refer to, and works to help keep you motivated. After all, it acts like a checklist; once you complete a scene or a page you can check it off the list and go on to the next scene. It’s not that hard, and it may even help with your stories.

First thing I do is figure out the characters you are going to need. This can vary depending on the story, so I’m not going to worry about the specific characters. However, it can help to list the characters, create a chart of their physical characters (height, weight, eyes, hair, skin, et cetera) to better visualize the characters in question. I also set up a relationship chart; this helps me figure out what how characters react to one another and also helps to suggest scenes later on. Also, by defining what they look like and how they react to one another, it helps to cement them in your mind. I also usually assign letters to each character to make outlining this monster easier. If I notice that there are teams, I’ll use a number to differentiate between teams and/or sub-teams.

I next figure out how many scenes I need. I usually go for 40-60 scenes, which is how many scenes there are in a movie. This also works out to about to about two pages a scene, so I know I’m looking at about 80-120 pages of script. It may sound like a lot, but that’s how long a graphic novel is or about four to six regular comics. For webcomics, that can also be almost forty weeks, or nine months, of updates, assuming two to three updates a week. As such it is not a bad target number.

I break it down to the main plot, two subplots, and a running gag or three. The main plot usually consists of about thirty scenes, each subplot about ten each, and running gags only need three or four scenes each. Breaking it down further, the main plot is going to last about five scenes for the first and third acts, and about twenty for the second act. The subplots should be about three scenes to set them up, five scenes to build them up, and then two scenes to finish them. The gags should take a scene to set up, one or two to build up, and one punchline scene.

I usually write very short summaries; a typically scene looks like “A meets B, C, D” or “1 fights 3”. I’ll also debate the emotional weight of the scene, usually positive or negative, which helps with setting up rhythms. I will go through and do this for the main plot and each subplot or running gag. Once I do that, I can then start mixing things together. I know that the best rhythm is for a positive scene to follow a negative one, and so I’ll try to set that pattern up. I also know that I can string together two scenes of like weight, as long as the emotion is similar; if two scenes are negative because of the anger, putting them together not only works, but intensifies the emotion.

So that’s how I outline. It gets really weird quickly, but at least it keeps me sane…