Posts Tagged ‘outlining’

WriYe and Planning

The last month has been so off-kilter that I didn’t even do the WriYe blog prompt in September. So, uh, here it is. Actually, it kind of goes along with the outlining workshop I’ve been working on for SkillShare.

Convenient.

Explain your planning process. Do you write a detailed outline or are you more of a bare bones only writer?

I’ve talked about my outlining process before, but I’m somewhere in the middle. What I find works best for me is outlining my major plot points at the beginning (basically inciting incident, first plot point, midpoint, second plot point, climax, and what comes in between/before/after those). Pacing is something I have issues with when left to my own devices, so keeping track of my turning points and when in the story those should be happening has been hugely beneficial for me.

I also do quite a bit of brainstorming at the beginning for worldbuilding/characters/plot ideas, and I tend to phase outline in between plot points. But I don’t need a lot of detail in my plan before I start writing.

Are you happy with the way you plan currently?

Yes, actually. I first outlined this way for City of Hope and Ruin–it was the way Siri outlined–and it worked so well that I have used it for almost every longer story since. I’m talking 10K and up; for short stories I tend to just phase outline, though sometimes I’ll also do tentpoles depending on complexity.

For Nano, uh, 2019, I tried a different outlining technique that Nano recommended to me, and it did not work at all. So we’re continuing with this current method.

Are there things you would like to try that are different or new to you?

I’m always willing to try something new, but for now, this is working really well. The fact that it emphasizes when things should happen kind of makes it hard to beat, at least for me. And I have been writing long enough that I kind of knows what works and what doesn’t at this point.

If I do less planning, then I run into the pacing issues again, and more planning makes me want to tear my hair out. A lot of writing, especially at the first draft level, is so instinctive, and writing to this kind of plan fixes most of my major issues so that revision is way easier. But that’s me! I imagine if you have naturally good pacing but other issues that other outlining techniques might work better.

Hoping to get my outlining workshop out on SkillShare by the end of the month! I’m worried the editing is going to take even longer than normal since the videos are longer.

Already Distracted

So, yesterday, my spouse woke up and was extremely upset about his lack of camping and specifically backpacking this summer. And I said, “Look, we’re super busy this month, so the only day we have to go is, well, today.”

So guess who had to go backpacking out of nowhere yesterday.

(Also just after we booked the campsite we got a freak hailstorm, which shredded all our plants and also flooded our basement, so we got out of here late to go backpacking. Yesterday was…something.)

So we talked Wednesday about World’s Edge being done finally, and how now I need to either revise Book One or outline/write the novella I owe Turtleduck Press or both.

And then I proceeded to do neither.

One because choices are hard, but, two, because I have two writing books out from the library. You see, a month or so ago I was going through some list of recommended writing books, and I thought I might actually read some of them.

But not now, no, that would be crazy.

So I put some on my To Read Later lists on my library card, or downloaded some samples to my Kindle, but there were two that my library did not have/were not available on the Kindle, so I decided to request these through my state’s Interlibrary Loan program, with the idea they would show up at some point but probably not soon.

(It’s been a year on my request for The Man Who Was Thursday. I know it’s still in the system because I check with the librarians periodically.)

So of course they came immediately.

They are The Story Grid, which is a revision technique, and a book called Plot Perfect, which is about plotting, as the name implies.

Now, the issue with Interlibrary Loans is that you get a single renewal. Six weeks and then they go back from whence they came, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. And from last year when I was attempting to read a writing book a month, I know that it is not fast to go through a writing book. You have to sit and absorb them, or sometimes do exercises. You have to try out the content, or what is the point?

Anyway, I’ve started working through The Story Grid. It proports itself to be a system that allows you to pinpoint what’s wrong with a story so it can be fixed in revision, which sounds like a lovely idea, and maybe will be helpful with my Book One revision.

I’ve mostly just made it through the set-up part of the book (because backpacking) but hopefully we’ll get into the process here soon. I admit to being a bit skeptical that this or any system is going to be able to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong, but here’s hoping!

My revision process works pretty well in general, but I’ve already run Book One through it once, so it probably wouldn’t hurt to try something new.

So, it’s kind of like I’m working on my revision? Very kind of.

But it does throw a wrench into things, because I do still need to get to my novella and if I’m going to try out a new revision technique, it may mean that it’ll be longer before I can switch projects. I mean, you don’t want to stop something new in the middle. That way lies madness.

Sigh. Dang it, occasionally efficient library system.

Have you tried the Story Grid technique, squiders? Thoughts on stuffing both projects into my schedule?

Also I just realized we’re less than a month from MileHiCon. Oh no.

No, no, I’ll worry about that next week.

Hope you’re having a lovely weekend!

Moving On (And a Finished Draft)

Apologies, squiders. I started this hours ago but then got distracted by Ghost Hunters. Man, I love ghost hunting shows even though I don’t actually believe in ghosts. Oh well.

So, as promised (or at least hoped for), I finished my draft of World’s Edge before this post! I finished it late last night. It’s so nice to actually have a finished draft, even though I’m not quite sure about the ending. Things to worry about later. It’s a little shorter than planned, only 95K, but close enough for now.

It’s nice to know I can still finish a draft too, after I spent all last year fighting with the Changeling story before abandoning it. (I’m pondering re-working it, maybe as a children’s book? Something for later, definitely.)

We’ll revisit Marit, Rae, Sol, Viri, and Ead in the future, of course, maybe once I finally get to revising things.

Also over is the critique marathon, which ended on Sunday. So now I’ve got six weeks of feedback, through chapter nine of Book One. It was very helpful. You guys know that the first seven chapters or so have been driving me crazy, because there’s something just off enough to bother me, but I’ve had the hardest time figuring out what it was. But I have a pretty good idea now (one character is lacking in internal conflict at the beginning, and I can condense some of the scenes without condensing the timeline), so maybe I’ll finally be able to fix it! Fingers crossed. Very excited.

Finishing a draft is always a bit weird, because you’ve been working on it for so long and whatnot, but I don’t actually feel too burnt out on this one. Which means I should be able to move on to the next project pretty quickly.

I’m thinking I’ll make a plan to move forward with Book One–figure out what needs changing and how I’m going to do it–and then, next week probably, switch to outlining the novella I owe Turtleduck Press. I’m going to film my outlining process and turn it into a workshop for SkillShare, to go along with the outlining class I put up earlier in the year.

(Reminder for self: It takes forever to edit the videos. Don’t forget that this time.)

And then…back to Book One? I’m not 100% sure. Since my soul searching in July, I know I’ve been avoiding working on Book One because I’m afraid of failure, even though my biggest goal is to have the trilogy published, and the last thing I need to do is lose the momentum I gained from the marathon.

But, on the other hand, the novella is due December 1, and it may make sense to push on through writing that to meet the deadline after outlining. It’s probably best to work on something consistently rather than switching back and forth.

But I’m at least going to make a plan for Book One. A path forward. So even if I don’t get back to it for a few months, I can remember what I wanted to do.

Hopefully.

Sigh.

I mean, I could always try to do both, I suppose. They’re in different stages, and I can normally manage an editing project and a writing project at the same time. We’ll just have to see.

Anyway, happy September, squiders. See you Friday!

New SkillShare Class Up!

Oof, squiders. I always forget how long the video portion of a class takes.

In my head, every class–and this is my fifth class–the hard part is putting together the PowerPoint part of the class, and the recording part is the easy part.

Well, I guess the recording isn’t too bad.

But the editing of those recordings? Oy.

I think I’ve spent about eight hours on the editing part. My video editor was starting to get REALLY grumpy.

(It is my longest class, at 40 minutes, but 8 hours for 40 minutes? Oof.)

Though, I will admit, it’s generally easier for me to focus on the recording/editing parts. Maybe they’re just more interesting because it’s not something I do very often.

Seriously, though, why do the PowerPoint portions always take me so long? I wanted this class up in March, maybe April. And here we are, in late May. Excellent job, self.

That being said, I’m considering doing a workshop for my next class, one where students follow along with me as I work on something. It’d be less formal, and it would involve no PowerPoint.

Maybe an outlining workshop, to follow up this class (oh, yeah, this class is about types of outlines). I do need to get a novella or two going, so it would be killing two birds with one stone.

(I had an idea for a novella yesterday while I was walking the dog, but I’ve already forgotten it. This is why we write everything down. WAIT NO I REMEMBER)

But it’s done! It’s up!

Work has been accomplished!

Anyway, if you’re interested, the new class is here! And I shall see you guys next week, no matter what.

Troubleshooting Your Outlining Issues

All right, squiders! I think this is the last bit of the outlining book. And from here, it’ll be time to go back through all the nonfiction book posts, put them together, and see what’s missing. Woo.

Outlining issues essentially fall into three main categories:

  1. Over-outlining
  2. Under-outlining
  3. Feeling trapped by your outline

Over-outlining

Problems stemming from over-outlining typically lie in overplanning, i.e., all your creative energy goes into the outline, and there isn’t any left over for the actual writing.

So, how do you fix this?

This is one of the hardest issues to fix. After all, you can’t un-plan. The best thing here might be some distance. Work on something else for a while. Let the story get out of your brain. Test different levels of outlining, so you know where your limit is.

Then, after you’ve given it enough distance, come back and give it another go. It might be that without directly working on, the story has regained some of its mystery. Or, if you’ve discovered you need less of an outline, skim what you have instead of re-reading everything to avoid overwhelming yourself again.

Under-planning

Do you often find yourself staring at your story, having no clue where to go next? This is often a symptom of under-planning. If you don’t have enough of an outline, you might not have a good idea of where your story is going or what you’re trying to accomplish, which can directly lead into writer’s block.

The good news is that this is the easiest outlining problem to fix. Just plan the story out some more. If you’re not an outliner and don’t want to be, try something more stream of conscious, like a mindmap or a freewrite. I find that phase outlining the next section can be extremely helpful for this problem.

At the very minimum, you can try a simple fix–leave yourself a clue about where to go when you stop writing for the day. Some authors like to stop in the middle of a sentence (forcing yourself to try to recreate your frame of mind), while others prefer to jot down a few notes about where to go next.

Feeling trapped by your outline

Let’s say you’re happily writing along, following your outline. Everything is going great. But then, instead of following the plan, at the height of the climax, your character suggests an alternate path forward, one that makes more sense, both to the plot and to the character’s personality.

Your outline says one thing, but it feels right to do something else. What’s the solution?

Remember, above all, that your outline works for you. It is a tool, designed to help you move the story forward and avoid stupid issues in plotting (like forgetting a subplot, or accidentally introducing a deus ex machina). Once you write yours, there’s no rule that says it is an immutable document that cannot be changed.

If something better comes along, give it a look. If you don’t want to get rid of your initial outline, make a second one with the new information and see how it looks. And the next time you run into something that needs to change, do the same thing.

(I would caution not just making the change and running blind into the wind. Take a second to give the new storyline the same level of scrutiny you gave the original, to make sure you’re not introducing anything terrible that will be hard to fix later.)

Any other issues you can think of when it comes to outlining, squiders? Solutions for these issues?

Also, I’m moving back the readalong discussion for Green Mars. The holidays and the Disney trip got away with my time, and I’m not ready to discuss it next week. Let’s look at mid-February for that discussion.

Using Outlines for Revision

A lot of people consider outlines as something you need before you start writing your first draft, but I would argue that they’re a much more important tool for the revision phase of a project.

That’s not to say that having an outline when you’re doing the initial writing isn’t helpful. In a lot of ways it is. (Please refer back to the section about why you need an outline for more on that.) But revision is a whole other beast, and if you’re unprepared for the process, you can find yourself putting out draft after draft and never really getting the book/story you’re looking for.

Revision is the process of taking the book you have and making it the book you want. But if you don’t know what you want…

That is why I highly recommend using outlines for your revision process. And the more thorough the outline, the easier it is to put into place. Even if you’re a pantser, use an outline for revision. The story’s been written. You know how it goes. The point now is to make it coherent, logical, and beautiful, and to prepare it for whatever the end goal of it is (whether it’s to share with a few friends or family or send it off hoping for traditional publication).

If writing is a right-brained activity, revision is left-brained. And having the right tools and processes make left-brained activities flow better. Having an outline can help you see where you’re missing scenes, where scenes don’t make sense, where you can add in more conflict (or streamline some that’s too complicated).

And once you’ve planned out what needs to go where, then you make it do so.

I like to use a combination of phase outlining and note cards for my revision process. Note cards in particular can be very useful, because each scene is its own card, which means you can rearrange scenes or add/remove them without disturbing the entire outline.

So, if you’ve had issues in the revision steps of the writing process, look at adding some outlining in. It can also help to note what in particular you have to keep rewriting (character motivation, plot flow, etc.) and focus on that in your outlining.

What say you, squiders? Do you think using an outline for revision is helpful? Alternates or other tools you like instead?



Types of Outlines (Part 3)

Soooo…hi? Sorry to leave you guys hanging for so long, but, alas, holidays and so forth.

Now we’re getting into the really meaty outlines, meant for people who like to know exactly where their story is going and what is happening exactly when. These outlines tend to take a lot of work and be fairly lengthy, but they can be useful because all the kinks are worked out in the outlining phase, making the actual writing pretty straightforward.

Save the Cat!

Save the Cat! is a technique that was originally designed for screenplay writing, but several fiction writers use it as well. Essentially, Save the Cat! and techniques like it have a list of “beats,” or key plot points, much like tentpole and act outlining. The different is that there are more “beats” (Save the Cat! has 15), and that they are more concrete about what needs to happen at each plot point.

The 15 beats for Save the Cat are Opening Image, Set-up, Theme Stated, Catalyst, Debate, Break Into Two, B Story, The Promise of the Premise, Midpoint, Bad Guys Close In, All is Lost, Dark Night of the Soul, Break Into Three, Finale, and Final Image. More information can be found in the book of the same name, Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder. A companion book, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, was recently released and covers the same ideas from a novel-writing standpoint. You can also find examples of movies broken down into the beats at the Save the Cat! website.

A similar method to this that might be more familiar to writers is the Hero’s Journey template by Joseph Campbell. There are twelve steps in the Hero’s Journey, each of which correspond to a particular plot point and where said plot point needs to go.

Chapter by chapter

Chapter by chapter outlining is more similar to phase outlining than the structure-based outlining techniques. In chapter by chapter outlining, you write down what’s going to happen in each chapter, rather than each scene. These explanations are normally a bit longer than with the scene-based phase outlining, though some people combine phase outlining with chapter by chapter, which looks something like:

Chapter One

  • MC is caught stealing apples
  • MC escapes from guards by using teleportation magic
  • Teleportation is illegal and MC has been seen using it; they need to leave town
  • Hurries home to pack but discovers someone has already been in their apartment

Alternately, you can combine a method more like freewriting with this method, where each chapter is outlined in a more prose-y manner:

Chapter One

MC has no food–they have been unable to find work and their older sister needs money for her medicine, else she’ll die–so, though they’ve never done it before, they decide to nick a few apples from a cart on the edge of the marketplace. It does not go well; the guards are summoned, MC is cornered in an alley and, afraid of what will happen to their sister without them, is forced to use their illegal teleportation magic to escape. But they were clearly seen; MC cannot stay here. They go home, trying to figure out how to tell their sister that they’ll need to leave–or even if they can, with the sister’s condition–but when they get home, their sister is gone and the apartment is overturned.

This method can be expanded on with the next one.

Structure Plus (Setting/Characters/Plot and/or Purpose/Goal)

I got this method from Writer’s Digest, and I take umbrage at the name because it’s not actually very structure based at all. This method basically combines with the phase or chapter by chapter methods. Instead of just listing events in a chronological order, you add more context to each scene/chapter. Normally this includes noting the setting, what characters are involved, some plot information (using a true outline form like we used to use in school or a list or a summary), and may also include what the purpose or goal of the scene is. This last bit is where the structure comes in, to some extent, as the purpose/goal information is often something along the lines of “complicate the relationship between these two characters” or “to foreshadow this major plot point.”

Example:

Setting: The marketplace, early morning, late autumn
Characters: MC, cart owner, city guards
Plot: MC steals apples, gets caught, is forced to use forbidden magic to escape, thinks they need to leave town, goes home to disaster
Purpose: Inciting incident; kicks the main plot into motion, introduces character and situation to readers

This method, being a combination of several other methods, can be a good way to see if a more complicated outlining method will work for you. It can help you keep track of your characters and settings (“wait, this can’t happen then because I had this happening after this over there”), and it can help you build your themes and arcs into the outline itself in a more concrete manner. It is also a good way to keep all your information in one place, especially if you combine it with a list of characters and worldbuilding.

Snowflake Method

The Snowflake Method is a complicated, in-depth outlining method that is often considered one of the most intense ways to outline a novel. The basic idea is to start out simple, such as a single sentence about your story, and, on each following step, add more detail to the outline. There are ten steps to the official Snowflake Method (which you can find by Googling).

Step 1: One-sentence summary
Step 2: Expand sentence to full paragraph
Step 3: Write one-page summary for each major character’s storyline, motivation, conflict, goal
Step 4: Expand each sentence in summary paragraph to its own paragraph
Step 5: One page description for all major characters and half-page for other important characters from character’s POV
Step 6: Expand one page synopsis (step 4) to four pages
Step 7: Expand character descriptions into character charts including all demographical information, character arcs, backstory, etc.
Step 8: Create scene list from four-page synopsis including POV character and (optional) scene length
Step 9: Expand each scene sentence into a paragraph and put in lines of dialogue you want to include and note core conflict
Step 10: Write story

The idea behind the Snowflake method is that, like a snowflake, which tessellates as you look closer at it, your story can be looked at closer and closer, finding more detail each time. Also, by starting at the big picture (a single sentence that encompasses the entire story) and moving into more detail, you avoid some issues you may run into by outlining linearly, such as pacing issues or missing steps in your subplots.

That being said, don’t be discouraged if this method isn’t working for it. It is quite difficult, especially if you’re new to writing or outlining, and it can be hard to sit down and pull out a ton of detail on a new story if you haven’t spent some time already thinking about it.

The methods shared here are just some of the variations you can try out when outlining your own stories. Try them on their own or in combinations, or find examples of how other authors do it on the Internet and give them a try. You’ll find something that works for you, and as you get more experience, you’ll learn what you need the most to be successful when you’re writing.

Any other thoughts on outlining types? Methods I forgot?

Next week we’ll do the usual year-end/year-beginning minutiae, and then we’ll jump back into outlining the week after.

Types of Outlines (Part 2)

Last week we discussed basic outlines, really more of a way to explore backstory and get a feel of your world and characters than a “true” plot-based outline.

This week, we’ll get into more plot-focused outlining methods. Again, I’ll include examples, and please feel free to ask for clarification on anything.

Also, remember that outlining works for YOU, not the other way around, and it is perfectly fine to use a combination or modify a method to make it be what you need it to be. (I often use a combination of the freewriting from last week with the phase outlining we are about to discuss if I don’t do a more formal outline.)

(Actually I recommend the freewriting method with any of the following methods, because it really is a great way to help develop your world and characters before you try to figure out what’s happening when.)

Phase (and Note card)

Phase outlining is pretty straightforward. You start at the beginning and go all the way through to the end, making a basic list of scenes with one or two sentence bullet points. (Or sentence fragments. This process is not picky.) This allows you to have a basic complete plot from the beginning, but also allows for a lot of wiggle room when it comes to other key story elements, such as themes, characterization, structure, etc. Note card outlining is similar. In note card outlining, you put each scene on its own card as opposed to listing the whole thing on a single piece of paper. The advantage of note card outlining is that it’s easy to rearrange scenes later on if you find that things end up making more sense in another order. It’s also easier to add and remove scenes as necessary.

Example:

  • Anna gets another memory while in History
  • School is not great because rumors about her and Tom in the waterworks have spread (Which is not great because if word gets back to the Council it’ll be suspicious)
  • Tom, Anna, and Charlie meet at Tom’s after school (Charlie is “dating” Maesie)
  • All have information to bring to the table–Tom has his map of the Waterworks, Anna has her experience within the Hospital, and Charlie has his experience from the war
  • They still have a lot of blank spots though–what is the Town’s relationship, what are they getting?

Or, for note card outlining:

(I use note card outlining primarily for revision, as a way to see what I have vs. what I need, so there’s more information on my cards than is strictly necessary.)

Both of these methods are good for determining what’s going to happen and in what order. Points/cards can be specific (“Amy’s dig finds success–she finds a series of broken pottery shards with strange symbols on them”) or vague (“They have an argument”). And both are changeable–as I mentioned above, you can rearrange your note cards or add new ones (or take ones out), and you can always cross out a section of your phase outline and add something else in instead.

(I actually like to phase outline in chunks. I typically phase outline up to a point, normally the next major plot point, write to that point, and then outline again to the next point. I find it too hard to map out every move for an entire novel, so this helps me, and it helps with my pacing too.) 

Reverse

Reverse outlining isn’t a specific technique so much as a twist that can be used in conjuction with a number of other outlining techniques. Basically, with reverse outlining, you just start at the end instead of the beginning. Some people feel like, if they know where they’re trying to get, they can better plan out the beginning part of a story.

Example (paired with freewriting):

Okay, so at the end of the book, I want my main character to have been captured by the opposing army. Why did they capture her? She made a mistake. Doing what? A mission behind enemy lines. To get something. A powerful artifact that the other side is using against her people. If she gets it, it will turn the tide of the war. Why was she chosen for this mission? There was a team. What happened to the rest of the team? One by one, they all fell.

Tentpole

In tentpole outlining, you identify the three main “tentpoles,” or defining moments, of your story, before you start writing. These three are typically the inciting incident, the midpoint, and the climax (terminology varies). This is a pretty technical way to outline and focuses a lot on pacing and story structure. The idea is that by knowing what needs to happen at a specific point, you can have an idea of where you need to be at any point in time in terms of rising/falling action and plot progression.

Example:

First Tent Pole: First sabotage attempt (or first that can be obviously tied to sabotage); arrive at projected coordinates–no ship

Midpoint: Ship nearly suffers from fatal sabotage attempt; discovery of scorched debris

Second Tent Pole: Saboteur gets cocky, starts leaving clues; faint signal detected

It can be helpful to make sure your tentpoles for each of your arcs or subplots. I typically do my external arc, my internal arc, and an relational arc (characters’ relationships with other characters). I find the method works best if you have a general idea of how long the book is going to be, since your tentpoles happen at specific points in a story (the first plot point occurs about 25% in, the midpoint about 50% in, etc.). And while you’re not tying yourself down by having to plot out every scene, you know what you’re working toward and when you need to get there.

Act

Act outlining is similar to tentpole outlining, but a little more in depth. Typically act outlining includes more plot points that tentpole outlining, and it includes a summary or phase outlining in between each plot point, so it provides a more detail look at plot progression and where the story needs to be at different places.

A lot of outlines for this method tend to do six acts rather than the three tentpoles. I like Michael Hauge’s take on this form, and have used it a few times for my novels (you can see it explained in detail at his website).

STAGE I: The Setup

TURNING POINT #1: The Opportunity (10%)

STAGE 2: The New Situation

TURNING POINT #2: The Change of Plans (25%)

STAGE III: Progress

TURNING POINT #3: The Point of No Return (50%)

STAGE IV: Complications and Higher Stakes

TURNING POINT #4: The Major Setback (75%)

STAGE V: The Final Push

TURNING POINT #5: The Climax (90-99%)

STAGE VI: The Aftermath

This was originally developed for screenplays, but works well for novels as well. Both this and the tentpole method can be a good compromise for people who worry that an outline will kill their creativity. You’ll know where you’re going, but won’t have to know how you’re getting there.

Next week we’ll look at more structured methods of outlining.

Types of Outlines (Part 1)

All right, squiders! (Oh no, they’ve changed the blog interface and now I have to figure out where everything is again, argh.) Today we’re going to look at some basic forms of outlining (with examples) to give you an idea of how much (or how little) goes into an outline, and what one might look like.

Basic Outlines

A basic outline doesn’t contain much information. It mostly focuses on the bare minimum so that the author can get writing as quickly as possible, and often focuses on backstory and character development over plot and story arcs. Let’s look at some different types.

Premise

A premise outline isn’t really an outline, per se. But it is probably the most basic way to plan out your story. A lot of pantsers use this method. Basically, this where you have a basic idea for a story (with speculative fiction, a lot of times this is a premise—something like, what if time travel had been possible for millennia?—but it doesn’t have to be. Some people start with characters, a specific scene, a setting, whatever, and work from there). Knowing your idea, you play around with it until you feel like you have enough info to start (which varies per person) and then you start writing. Back when I pantsed, I tended to have a main character, a starting point, and a vague idea what the point of the story was.

Example: I have an ancestor who was knighted by Queen Victoria—one of my Scottish ancestors—and I just think it would be fun to have him fight crime in Steampunk!London.

And then I might go on to do a basic character outline (Sir George Simpson, aged 46, respected doctor, likes tea, helping people, strolling about, does not like noise, technology, hoodlum. Add in a airship pirate character, female, who likes or is everything that Sir George hates, and maybe a rival physician). I would also do a vague plot (Sir George is called in to consult on a series of strange murders) and perhaps come up with a place to start (no reason not to jump straight in–Sir George comes home from one of his wanders to find a royal courier waiting). But again, this varies by person. But with this method, you basically have an idea and some other information, and off you go.

Freewrite

Freewriting is a technique where you just sit down and write without pre-planning what you’re writing about or thinking too hard about it while you’re doing it. The idea is to just let the words subconsciously flow from your fingers, and the idea is that sometimes you’ll get some really good stuff that was otherwise blocked from coming out in a normal manner. To use freewriting as an outlining technique, you just sit and write until you get something usable out of it. I often use freewriting to brainstorm story points and potential plot events if I get stuck on something I didn’t previously outline more in depth.

For example: But what is the conspiracy?  What are they hiding?  If we assume that the year is somewhere in the near future, 2040s or something – which works actually, because it parallels the town pretending to be the 1940s – and Anna is a member of this society, she will have some disconnects between her surroundings and her subconscious memories.  I also don’t know how old Anna is.  I kind of want to put her at 18, because then she’s old enough to be able to think on her own, though it might be a little old if I want her to go to high school.

The idea with freewriting is that you let everything out, and hopefully in the process find what you need to start writing. It can be very helpful for figuring out your backstory and plot, as well as adding some depth and twists into your planning.

Mind Map

Mind mapping is a visual technique that works somewhat like freewriting, in that you don’t think too hard about what you’re doing and just follow the flow of your thoughts wherever they happen to go. It can be likened to a visual version of freewriting, but it can be very helpful in organizing a subject into topics. As an example, here’s the mind map for this very book:

We’ll look at additional types of outlines next week. Any questions on the basic types?

Oh, in addition, I’m trying out some new marketing. If you’d like to help me out, I’ve got a coupon for Hidden Worlds at Smashwords that makes it 99 cents. It should be a public coupon, so all you have to do is look at the book’s page for it to work. So if you like meta fantasy adventures and books on sale, there we are!

Why Do I Need (or Want) an Outline?

Happy Tuesday, squiders! It is freezing in my house and I can’t find–oh, here they are. Never mind.

We’re continuing to talk about outlining today, tackling why you might want–or need–to have an outline.

What’s the point of an outline?

An outline serves as a guide for you while you’re writing the story (or nonfiction book). It helps you remember what your plan was, keeps all your information in one handy spot, and can help you develop ideas from vague thoughts into something deep and meaningful that will make your story super cool. It can even help you spot problems before you get started.

An outline helps you write your story, simple as that.

Aren’t I trapped?

This is a common misconception that comes with outlining. Many people think that if you have an outline, you’re trapped. The story must happen exactly as you’ve planned it. Creativity is dead!

This is not true at all. An outline works for you, not the other way around.

That’s why, in the intro section, we talked about experimenting with what information, and how much, you need for your outline. And the good news is that an outline is not a static document. 

If you write a scene, and it’s more natural to go a different way than you’d originally envisioned? Great! Update your outline. If your planned ending feels forced? Try something else. There’s nothing that says you have to stay with your outline if it stops fitting the story.

I would recommend updating your outline if you decide to radically change things, but we’ll go into that in a minute.

Additionally, you can outline at any point in your writing process. If you started off pantsing and find yourself in a corner, you can start outlining from that point as a way to figure out how to get from where you are to where you want to be. This is actually how I started, once upon a time–I would pants the first half or so of the book, then outline the end, so I could make sure all my loose threads would be tied up in a logical and entertaining manner.

You can also outline revisions and rewrites. Because you already know the story (and what’s wrong with it), it can help to lay out what needs to be changed and how, to limit the amount of drafts you have to go through in the end.

Outlines are the solution to writer’s block

The biggest pro of outlining is that it virtually eliminates writer’s block.

(There are exceptions, as there are to everything. That’s another subject.)

Have you ever been happily writing along, throwing every terrible thing you can think of at your main character, and run into a brick wall? Things have gotten too terrible, and you don’t see how they can ever get out of it. Or your main character is flitting around from subplot to subplot, not getting anywhere, because you’re not sure what they’re trying to get to?

As I said before, an outline can be basic. Just knowing what your character wants (and whether it will be a good or bad thing when–if–they get it) can help shape your entire narrative. A little more structure, and you can know where you’re supposed to be at what point (“okay, at the midpoint, she finds out that who she thought was her sister isn’t her sister at all”). Nothing has to be specific–you don’t have to do any great detail–but knowing where you’re going, even vaguely, helps eliminate that flailing feeling where you don’t know where to go next.

NOTE: It can also be useful to outline the next day’s writing when you stop writing for the day. This can help you easily remember where you were and what was happening when you come back, and it gives you an idea of what you need to do for the day. It’s always faster to write when you know what you’re doing versus when you don’t.

(If you’ve ever read one of those books or articles about increasing your daily word count, you’ll know they almost always talk about having a plan for your daily writing. Same idea here.)

Next week, squiders, we’ll start delving into the types of outlines (complete with examples).

Thoughts on outlining?