Picasso: For me, the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line!

Einstein: Likewise.

—Steve Martin, Picasso at the Lapin Agile

A very dear man named Jack White, who is a painter and advisor of other painters, puts a twist on the old idea that when you have a goal you write it down and look at it every day. He uses the metaphor of using a road map for a road trip, and puts a twist on that as well, by pointing out that if you’re driving to Austin from, say, Grand Rapids, you’re going to look at a map—and you’re also going to encounter obstacles that aren’t on the map, like construction, weirdos at truckstops, the Mississippi, stuff like that. You’ll find your way around them. That’s why you look at the goal: to let your mind start working out how to find its way around the obstacles in your way, and to learn to trust your mind, heart, and spirit to do that.

Outlines and novels work the same way, ish. Only you need a map for a novel even more than you need a map, or a phone, for a roadtrip, because chances are there are no well-marked highways through your novel…yet, anyway.

Some people think that outlines are another Muse-killer, but I think that’s crap. If you’re like me, and life keeps happening while you’re writing, you need to be able to come back to where you were without going over the entire mess again every time. Some days you’re going to sit down and say, “Where was I?” and the outline will be a great help in this. It won’t kill the Muse because, as previously mentioned, you’re still going to be going on the trip that the outline is the map for, and you’re going to run into all kinds of exciting obstacles and new characters and plot twists and fun. You’re going to learn to trust your mind, your heart, and your spirit to get around the obstacles in your way. Two of my favorite characters in my first published book appeared during the fifth rewrite and were never in an outline anywhere. They’ve been a grand help.

If you are writing a novel in the Western world, the following basic map is a helpful starting place. This version was created by an extremely kickass friend of mine. Once I get her permission I’ll tell you who she is. I will go into more detail in a later entry; for now, here’s the map. Check it out, think about it, and start doodling your own. Share your own techniques for outlining and road mapping your books in the comments!

Act I.

A. Status quo.
B. Inciting incident.
C. What do I do.
D. Hero sets out on journey.

Act II.

A. Fun and games: the learning stage.
B. Midpoint.
C. Scene of love.
D. All is lost.

Act III.

A. Hero overcomes self.
B. Final battle.
C. Crisis.
D. Resolution.