I’ve been promising for a very long time to have a tutorial on how to use the outliner, but I am ashamed to admit that it’s a feature I rarely use. In fact, I don’t use at all. However that’s not to say that it isn’t a useful. So the purpose of this tutorial is two-fold. One, I’m learning with you on how to use it effectively; two, how it will help me with plotting my story.
Before I get into the mechanics of the outliner, the first thing I did was clean up my index card synopsis for each chapter. Previously I used the “auto-generate from text, which took the first paragraph or two from the text. In this cleaned-up version, I wrote a one sentence summary of the chapter. So far this is how my outliner looks (click on each image for a larger view):
At the footer, you’ll notice you can add a new text document, a folder, the gear wheel, which has numerous options that allows you to add, move, reveal in binder, and so forth. The two directional arrows automatically opens the selected scene or chaper in the editor. You’ll notice I have 17 chapters in Part 1 of the book, and at the moment, my synopses are hidden. To unhide them, I just hit the button “Show Synopses” or I can go to the small double arrow on the right, click on that and a drop menu will appear that has a number of set column heading I can select.
Now I have the chapter headings and the synopsis for each one. Just like the corkboard I can reorder these chapters/scenes and you’ll see that change reflected in the binder. If I click on the Title and Synopsis bar, my chapter heading become alphabetized, but there’s no change in the binder. Click on it again and they are in reverse alphabetical order. One last click, it’s back to the correct chapter/scene order.
If we take a look at the column options offered, you’ll note that some of them might be helpful and others, well, will leave you scratching your head wondering why you would include them in an outline. But here’s the fun part of the outliner, you can configure your meta-data settings to include other columns like location, date, point-of-view and goal, motivation, and conflict.
So now let’s customize the outliner by adding the meta-data. Go to the toolbar, select Project->Meta-Data Settings. A box will open and you’ll see it has Project Properties, Label (which relates to the general information seen in the Inspector), Status (ditto), and Custom Meta-Data.
Let’s play around with Label and Status first. Because I like to make my work as visual and colorful as possible, I’ve color-coded each of my characters’ point-of-views, but I’ve kept the generic title of label. What I’ll do is change it to POV and that’s now shown in the General section of the Inspector.
I’m keeping “Status” as is, but you’’ll notice that I can add my own statuses whether the chapter/scene need fine-tuning, which revision I’m on, whether I need to research more etc.
So here come the fun part…in Custom Meta-Data you can add more specifics that you might want to include in the outliner. In my case, I added the date, the location and the character’s internal GMC for that specific chapter. Because I want my outliner to be compact, I click on wrap text. I also have the choice of making the text a different color.
Now that I’ve added these extra fields. I can select them from the list and double click the empty space beneath the header title and type in my information.
Or I can go to the Inspector, click on the icon at the footer of the Inspector that looks like a luggage tag and I’ll see my Custom Meta-Data. Here I can type in my dates, location, my GMC and each column will be automatically filled with the pertinent data.
The outliner is very flexible, allowing you to move the columns, resize them, contents can be word-wrapped. Here’s a semi-final version of my outline:
And there you have it. The beauty of the outliner, as I discovered while working on this lesson, is that you can make it fit any writing style whether you’re a robust outliner or fall somewhere in between plotter and pantser.