Outlining my Graphic Novel

The first step on my graphic novel journey is outlining. So I’m doing it, albeit reluctantly. It’s my least favorite stage of the writing process, but I know from experience that it works for me.

Last year I finished my first novel. I wish I’d documented it online, but sadly, I didn’t have a blog. Anyway, outlining was my breakthrough. After years of seat-of-the-pants writing and countless abandoned stories, I forced myself to try it, just to see if it worked. (I was doubtful). But in the end it did work. It worked wonders.

My Supplies List:

1. Notebook 2. Another Notebook (you can never have too many)

1. Notebook
2. Another Notebook
(you can never have too many)
3. Complete Idiot’s Guide
(I embrace it)
4. To-Do List
5. Pens/Pencils

*It’s not on the list, but a computer might be helpful. I use one along with writing by hand.

Even though I’m working on a visual story, I find that the three main elements of novel-outlining- character, plot, and setting- are still present. The major difference is the layer that illustration adds to the written story.

The outlining process involves many steps, all of which I’m doing at the same time in a chaotic frenzy.

1. Character

Although I don’t often try to develop characters first, I’m putting it as #1 because I consider it the most important aspect of a story, right next to plot. Creating characters involves making biographies and listing traits and flaws along with more abstract things like goals and values. I like to work on my main characters first, including the antagonist, then the secondary characters.

My protagonist’s character development is the most extensive out of all the characters because it determines what the voice will sound like. I’m going to write in first-person, so he’ll be the character the readers hang out with the most. His voice needs to be strong enough to carry them through the story. Also, I have to make sure he is likeable, relatable (to some extent), and interesting.

So far, I know these little things about my protagonist: His name is Fox. He is a young boy who is curious, introspective, independent, and lonely. He likes to collect strange objects and doesn’t talk much.

2. Plot

I think it’s fun to block out scenes and see how the story twists and turns from a bird’s-eye view. It’s at this stage where I can really imagine the story coming to life.

Plotting can be difficult at times because I have to stop being lazy, actually sit down with a pen and paper, roll up my sleeves, and start the dirty work. Blocking out scenes involves messy handwriting, arrows going everywhere, scene lists getting reorganized and cut and mashed together into a big mess of ideas that resembles a five-year-old’s mud pie. If anybody saw my notes they’d probably think I was going mad.

But there is something magical about this part, however messy it may be, because the story is starting to take shape. I’ve connected things and now it looks like a sculpture of sorts, with pieces and chunks of clay sticking out. It’s not pretty, but now I have something to work with. The general story is shaping up. Later comes the smoothing out.

An exercise I like to challenge myself with is the one sentence plot summary. It helps me streamline my story into its bare parts, letting me know what I’m getting myself into. It catches me before I dive into the details and realize that this is not the story I want to tell. Or it assures me that I’m on the right track.

Here’s mine: A boy named Fox is recruited into a group of children who want to track down the shadow monster that lingers on the edges of their makeshift village and threatens its unstable balance.

It took me several tries and a lot of cutting-out, but I somehow managed to describe the main idea in one sentence. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

Going through the beginning of the outlining phase, I didn’t expect so much change to happen to the story. I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you that three weeks ago this book was going to be about a cat who wants to be an astronaut. I’m very indecisive and had a lot of attractive ideas, but I chose to put that story in the vault for another day and continue with this one. Over time I’ll try to embrace change.

3. Setting

I’ve found this aspect differs from novel outlining the most. In a full written novel, descriptions must be written out sentence by sentence. In a visual story, the visual description happens through artwork. There’s no need to describe the emotion on a characters face or how the light hits the trees in the forest because the readers will see it and understand (hopefully).

tree doodle

tree doodle

I’m both excited and nervous for this part of the process, which I haven’t really started yet, because it indicates uncharted waters. This is where the familiarity ends. I have experience in drawing and art, but not in creating characters and worlds. That’s what makes the whole process an exciting adventure, though.

My goal for now is to continue outlining and start getting into the details. I know this is going to be challenging, but I’m so excited!



2 thoughts on “Outlining my Graphic Novel

  1. sunnydayle says:

    I applaud you for setting out on such a daunting project! How exciting. I can’t wait to see how it progresses. Your art is beautiful as well. I love drawing people and tend to draw my characters so I can see them outside my head. I’m not very good at drawing settings and landscapes, so I love how you’re able to give the sense of graceful landscape with just a few lines. You’re pretty badass. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tori says:

      Thank you so much! Your comment made my day! Yes, I still can’t tell whether to be more scared or excited. Drawing characters is fun, although mine don’t turn out quite like I pictured them in my head. 😀 I agree- it can be helpful for writing and visualizing. And with drawing nature, it’s probably my favorite subject, so I practice all the time (especially when I’m supposed to be studying).


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