Sunday, June 29, 2008

Writing Non-fiction: Session 5 - Outline Development

A good outline can help you “grow” your non-fiction book. When writing non-fiction, you can write your whole book without ever leaving the comfort of your outline document. Once developed, you can jump around in the outline and write a topic or sub-topic or sub-sub-topic one at a time; later you’ll work through the book from front to back to smooth out the transitions between outline sections.

Here’s a way to conceptualize your book outline. As an example, I’ll share an outline for a book I'm writing about eldercare.

1. Start with the broadest thought that specifically describes your book. Let’s call that Outline #1. My broad thought about my book is…

A manual for adult children of aging parents

That’s it. That’s the whole outline for my non-fiction book for now. Put it aside. Let the idea ferment then come back and work on it as described in #2.

Outline #2

2. The one topic (A manual for adult children of aging parents) from Outline #1 becomes the working title for your book when you move on to Outline #2. Your next task is to begin to break that topic down.

Many authors divide non-fiction books into parts. Others start out with chapters. In this example we’ll divide the topic in Outline #1 into four parts. (There’s an example of this outline without “parts” later in the sessions.) So, Outline #2 would look something like this:

Book Working Title: A Manual for Adult Children of Aging Parents
1. How to get started
2. Assessing what’s needed
3. Setting the stage for care-giving
4. Day-to-day care-giving

3. Break down each topic from Outline #2 to the next level. For example, I've selected How to get started as the title for one of the four parts of my book. Next, I break it down into logical topics. These would be the chapter topics. For this, don’t be concerned about coming up with snappy wording for your topics. You can develop the real “chapter titles” later. Right now, these are working titles. Keep them simple and descriptive.

Book Title: A Manual for Adult Children of Aging Parents

Part I: How to get started
1. Care-giving then and now
2. Transition to dependence

Part II: Assessing what’s needed
1. Can your parent live alone again?
2. Assessing your parent’s skills

3. Assessing living environments

Part III: Setting the stage for care-giving
1. Health care professionals and what they do
2. Finding help
3. Out-of-home options

Part IV: Day-to-day care-giving
1. Establishing a daily routine
2. Scheduling appointments and assistance
3. Resources
4. Socialization
5. Taking care of the caregiver

Once you've reached this stage in writing the outline for your non-fiction book, you not only have the broad outline for your book, but the outline at this point can be used as the table of contents for your book. Next, we will talk about how to take the outline into topics, subtopics, and beyond until you get to the point of writing the book within the outline.