Tuesday, 23 August 2011


An outline is both less and more than a synopsis.   A synopsis gives the flavour of the novel, but concentrates on the main characters and events.  It's a piece of prose. An outline is more like a list of what happens.  It doesn't have any fancy writing but shows everything that happens.  

I never write a synopsis for my books beyond a brief paragraph to give my editor an idea of what I'm up to, but I do write an outline.  This usually comes after I've written the whole novel at least once, I've laid out all the scenes on index cards and done whatever moving around or adding of scenes to make the best shape.  Then I write the outline. 

Here's the beginning of one I did for A Single to Rome....

Section A


Michael leaves Natalie

He wants space, it’s unclear if they’re going to get together, he leaves the door metaphorically open.

Vee’s hen party/Natalie’s reaction to getting dumped.

At first there’s shock, - how could he? Then plots and plans to get him back Natalie gets pissed, tries to pick up men, she wants someone to go to vee’s wedding with her.

Natalie’s plan

Make him appreciate what he’s missing.  Make him jealous.  Needs a bloke = and fast.

Work scene.

Tries to get colleague to go on date with her.  One of the colleagues suggest speed dating as way of meeting lots of new guys.

Then with client, Mrs A – they’re going to screw Mr A.  Xegesis idea.

Natalie goes speed dating.

Meets various blokes including Guy.

Work scene.  At the court.  

Judgement goes against Mr A.  He’s furious.  Natalie triumphant.

Arranges Michael to meet on pretext of keys

Goes on date with Guy, with Michael supposed to see Guy and be jealous.

With Vee on set of Celebrity DIY. 

After the date with Guy, Natalie thinks it’s worked – Vee tells her Michael has asked to bring someone to the wedding. Natalie invites Guy to be her date at Vee’s wedding.

Anyone who has read the book might recognise the scenes, though in the finished book the order was different, characters got renamed, I researched the correct name for the legal loophole etc. But each section shows where the scene is going to be, the main characters who are in it and what events are going to happen - events being my catch-all phrases for stuff including internal changes of direction as well as external changes.

I will read and tweak the outline until it makes sense as a complete novel, checking things like making sure the main characters are to the fore, while the subsidiary characters bubble along, or there aren't several similar scenes together. When all that is sorted I can really get to grips with the re-writing.  

The outline becomes a security blanket, although one that I can adjust and readjust as I go along.  I print it out and it sits beside me as I re-write, an overview of where the novel is going, where it's been, and what's coming up next.  I find it a very useful tool.

And I'm going to talk about why it's called Section A tomorrow. 

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