Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Expanding an Outline

Your initial idea for a novel is usually just a gem of an idea, which you think around and gradually expand it to an outline. This outline has to be expanded into a whole novel. Here are two ways of doing it:

Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method of designing a novel starts with a one-sentence description which grows into a paragraph. Then you take each sentence of the paragraph and expand that into a paragraph, and so on. There are other techniques involved, but this is the core of it. Taking each part in turn and expanding it. I have used it and it works very well. He has even written a short novel about it, where the protagonist learns how to outline her novel – in a novel!

The Story Book by David Baboulene, suggests another method. This involves writing the major sections of the story on file cards, and then expanding each card to more cards as you identify more details and more incidents. You could do it on a computer, but I think file cards work better because you have more room to spread them out.

You often find that an incident you want to happen at one point, needs setting up earlier on. So you can create a card for the setup, and insert it where it needs to go. For example, in Back to the Future, which he worked on, one incident is that Marty McFly invents rock and roll. To do that, he needed to be shown earlier playing rock and roll before he gets sent back to the past.

David Baboulene ends up laying them all on the floor, and rearranges them to decide the order of the story. This is particularly helpful if you can’t decide where in the story to start the novel, or whether you should use flashbacks.

Just one word of warning – number your cards in some way in case you drop them!

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at

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