Architect Writing: Outlining A Novel

By Kelsey Barthel, Author

I am a bad gardener. I was only ever able to make one plant grow in my entire life. I don’t like the idea that you can follow the instructions, do your best and sometimes it just won’t pan out. I hate the unpredictability of it. How so many things are out of my control. The same can be said for the gardener method of writing, where you let the characters in your mind lead you through the story. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for fellow authors who have mastered this method, but I am completely incapable of working that way. I am an architect writer. I carefully map out every aspect of my work and that gives me a map to avoid plot-holes and dead-end story arcs. The method I have grown to love using is easy to follow and can help a writer in more ways than one.

The first step involves a simple but important tool, the bullet point list.

Before I write anything, I make a full list of every plot point, character progression, character introduction, or twist that I want to happen. This is a good place to start your planning because, at this stage, it’s very moldable. You can move things around, change points, and even cut out the fat. Plus, the act of writing your ideas down causes you to solidify them in your head. You start to see these fluttering ideas become a solid concept in your brain. You can also use this step to plan out a whole series of books with a huge overarching storyline; the sky’s the limit. To keep with the architect metaphor, think of this step as laying a solid foundation. Now you have sturdy ground to build on.

The next step is to build your framework.

This step is basically making an extremely rough first draft. Just forget about grammar and flowery prose and just write what’s important to the story. This method helps you plan the progression of events and pin point important actions or dialogue in the story. If you get in your mind that this is just a framework or a roadmap, you won’t be constantly bogged down with the technical elements of writing. The steps and progression of the story is the only important thing at this stage. It’s just a personal preference of mine, but I always do this step with a simple pen and notebook. This way, you can work on it wherever you like and you don’t have the distractions of your computer pecking at your creativity. You can have fun with it and just work out the story you saw in your head.

Now, the actual first draft!

There is a reason I do that draft with a pen and paper; it is so I’m not tempted to take the framework step and work it to be the real first draft. The framework draft is messy because it’s supposed to be. If you do it on computer and try to change it to your real first draft, you are going to be fixing problems in it for ages. The planning draft is supposed to be a road map for your first draft. You use it to make sure you don’t get lost in the moment and forget the points that are supposed to be important. With the architect metaphor, this part in where you put the walls up, install the figures, and put in the floor. This is where you make it look like a real home. This is where you start to see your fully realized novel.

This method may take some time, but personally I find comfort in the checks and balances it provides. I’ve used it to plan a novel, some short stories, the progression of events in my series, and the bullet point step has helped me get through some bad writers block. Give it a try and see if it helps you build a strong and sturdy story.

Kelsey Rae Barthel

Author of Beyond the Code

Read this article in the Opal Writers’ Magazine.

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4 thoughts on “Architect Writing: Outlining A Novel

  1. It was so lovely to read about Kelsey’s outlining process, I’ve never thought of calling the first rough draft of a project the ‘framework’ before. That’s something I might take away from this going forward! Thanks for the great post.

  2. Loved this. I used to pants my way through three novels myself, but after needing to rewrite a ton of plot holes and inconsistent character traits, I’ve started looking at outlining more, and getting all the details straight before I even start. Thanks for sharing this. It certainly is pointing me in the right direction.

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