Since 1980 Lorina Stephens has worked as editor, freelance journalist for national and regional print media, is author of seven books both fiction and non-fiction, been a festival organizer, publicist, lectures on many topics from historical textiles and domestic technologies, to publishing and writing, teaches, and continues to work as a writer, artist, and publisher at Five Rivers Publishing (http://www.fiveriverspublishing.com). She has had several short fiction pieces published in Canada’s acclaimed On Spec magazine and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s fantasy anthology Sword & Sorceress X. Her book credits include: Stonehouse Cooks, Five Rivers Chapmanry 2011, From Mountains of Ice, Five Rivers Chapmanry 2009, And the Angels Sang, Five Rivers Chapmanry 2008, Shadow Song, Five Rivers Chapmanry 2008, Recipes of a Dumb Housewife, Lulu Publishing 2007, Credit River Valley, Boston Mills Press 1994, Touring the Giant’s Rib: A Guide to the Niagara Escarpment; Boston Mills Press 1993 Lorina Stephens is presently working on two new novels, The Rose Guardian, and Caliban. She lives with her husband of three plus decades, and two cats, in a historic stone house in Neustadt, Ontario. Her book credits include: Stonehouse Cooks, Five Rivers Chapmanry 2011, From Mountains of Ice, Five Rivers Chapmanry 2009, And the Angels Sang, Five Rivers Chapmanry 2008, Shadow Song, Five Rivers Chapmanry 2008, Recipes of a Dumb Housewife, Lulu Publishing 2007, Credit River Valley, Boston Mills Press 1994, Touring the Giant’s Rib: A Guide to the Niagara Escarpment; Boston Mills Press 1993 Lorina Stephens is presently working on two new novels, The Rose Guardian, and Caliban. She lives with her husband of three plus decades, and two cats, in a historic stone house in Neustadt, Ontario.

Writers’ Craft 3: Outlining

Technical issues

I was going to make this entire Writers’ Craft series as vlogs. However, I have a problem with my ISP, in that they have not upgraded the lines in our wee village, and so uploading to YouTube is problematic. The first two videos required an overnight upload, with nothing else eating up broadband. The third one has been a bust, I’m afraid. I’ve tried four times now. The first three attempts resulted in 3% upload after 24 hours. The last attempt stalled at 26%. And I’m out of patience. So, I’m back to the written word, which I suppose is appropriate given I’m supposed to be imparting wisdom on the creation of the written word. Life is full or ironies, say what?

Creating an Outline, or why bother?

I know of a good many writers, be they novice or experienced, who ask that question: Why bother outlining? In my experience, outlining is an essential tool if you’re going to write.

  1. Outlining saves time, because the need for extensive revision will be reduced. You’ll know where you’re going with the story, and why, rather than employing the ‘panster’ method of just writing without any idea at all where you’re going with the story.
  2. Outlining adds cohesion to plot progression, because you’ve thought out your story ahead of time.
  3. Outlining helps you to solidify character development.
  4. Outlining allows you to develop literary devices throughout your story by way of foreshadowing, pacing, and when to introduce a character or plot element.
  5. Outlining helps to identify any further research you’re going to require.
How to create your outline

I use Word or Excel, depending on the complexity of my plot. Normally I use Word, and lay things out by chapter or section, and often pre- or append character sketches as well as world and environmental details. However, when I wrote The Rose Guardianthe story was a bit more complex, employing three different voices in three different timelines, and because of that I used Excel so I could easily scan and organize, as well as keep the continuity of the overall storyline. That also allowed me to clearly define character sketches which allowed me to use those influences in other sections.

I remember well interviewing Marian Fowler, a great Canadian biographer (Blenheim, Below the Peacock Fan, In a Gilded Cage) who was a stickler for accurate research. She used 3×5 cards to outline her biographies and research, and then pinned the cards to a board, or laid them out on a table in her office. I did often wonder what she did if a strong breeze blew through the window. But it was a system which stood her in good stead for many decades.

Other writers I know have written points out by hand on sheets of paper, and then organized those sheets in binders of folders. Others yet have used sticky notes on a wall near their computer. Some have even gone to the trouble of creating visual sketches, working out an actual storyboard.

Just find a system that works for you and use it. You’ll be grateful you did when it comes time to do your revision.

An Outline is a guide, not a monument

It’s important to remember, as you write, your outline is a guide, not a rigid format to which you must adhere. Things occur to you as you’re writing, new ideas, change in plot, change in character, and that’s the way it should be. Just make note of that in your outline and adjust accordingly. I think of an outline as a recipe, if I may be allowed to use a cooking analogy. It often occurs I don’t have all the ingredients for the recipe, which means I liberally substitute. So, I may have started out to make a lasagna, but found I had neither tomatoes nor ground meat, but I did have cream, an abundance of cheese, greens and mushrooms. I still made a lasagna. It was just flavoured differently.

Same with writing and an outline. But it’s important to have at least that basic structure of an outline in place, otherwise you may end up making salad instead of lasagna.

You can follow me at my website: fiveriverspublishing.com

Writers’ Craft Video Series

First video in Writers’ Craft series

Over the next weeks I’ll feature short videos in which I discuss writers’ craft, dispensing knowledge accumulated over the past 40 years in the field of publishing. This first installment is Workspace and Equipment.

You can visit me at my website: fiveriverspublishing.com