Posts Tagged ‘outlining’

WriYe and Pantsing

It’s that time of month. March’s prompt from WriYe reads as such:

Planner, pantser or plantser? Why?

Okay, quick runthrough for the new people (because we’ve definitely talked about pantsers and planners before)–planners outline before they start writing, pantsers start writing without planning and make it up as they go, and plantsers are somewhere in the middle.

(Arguably almost everyone is a plantser of some shade.)

So! I definitely started as a pantser. I remember my first Nano way back in 2003. It was a murder mystery, and I was 10000 words in before I knew who the killer was. The next several novels went the same way, where I just made it up as I went. This led to Issues, most specifically pacing and the fact that some stories (my YA horror that I poke at occasionally, and Shards‘ first draft) would change tone/genre in the middle.

(My YA horror went from fun high school romp to horror, and Shards went from romance to adventure. You can’t really do that and get away with it, in most cases.)

(There are, of course, exceptions to everything. I’m sure there are novels out there that undergo tone/genre changes at the halfway point and are brilliant.)

I think it was…probably the second draft of Book 1 (2009/2010 time frame) where I sat down and planned out the story before I started writing. Of course, it was also a second draft, so I knew generally where the story was going (makes outlining WAY easier), but I did plan it out to some extent, because I needed to make changes and changes are always easier if you know what you’re doing and why.

I want to say I also outlined Book 2 (written 2010/11), though with a much simpler outline than what I currently use.

And then I spent a few years revising, and in 2014 started the space dinosaur story with a different but still simpler outline. The space dinosaur outline is significant because it fixed pacing, which had been my major issue up to that point.

After that we get into the City of Hope and Ruin timeframe, which I co-wrote and, consequently, adapted to Siri’s outlining process. Siri’s outlining process was WAY BETTER than what I had been doing up to that point. I combined it with the space dinosaur outlining and occasionally the phase outlining that I used for Books 1/2 (and still use for short stories) and that is my current outlining process.

It is lovely, and I find it works really well for my novella and novel projects.

But would I consider myself a planner? No. At most I’m going to have like, 10 pages of outlining and notes before I start a story. When I think planner, I think someone who has the exact events of each chapter planned out, and knows how long each chapter is going to be, and has already figured out all of their character quirks and worldbuilding, and has mapped out the whole series if, indeed, it’s going to be a series, and knows the rise/fall of their scenes and so forth and so on.

I would love to be a planner. But I can’t do it. My brain gets bored of the whole project and I never write the thing. Oh well. From what I understand from acquaintances who are planners, the actual writing goes really easily because they’ve figured everything out in the planning stage.

So I am a plantser, and I suspect I will stay that way. As I said above, my process is working really well, and it’s dynamic enough that I can change it to fit each individual project. (For example, when I wrote my cozy it required way more pre-planning of where everyone was at what times, and I also use a timeline for longer duration stories that take place over several months.)

Anyway, that’s me. How are you doing, squiders? I need major non-writing projects to stop popping up, thank you very much.

Cover Reveal: May the Best Ghost Win by KD Sarge

Good afternoon and happy Thursday, squiders! Today I’m very very pleased to be able to share the cover of May the Best Ghost Win by KD Sarge, which is coming out this Sunday (on Halloween, of course)!

Isn’t it great? I love the hulking house.

Here’s the blurb:

Four Teams. Thirteen hours. One very haunted house.

Team Gargoyle

Anton Berg doesn’t believe in ghosts, so why is he in a ghosthunting contest? Because Lammie, that’s why. Anton’s best friend since the first grade, Lammie has a knack for getting himself in trouble, and even without ghosts, running around a two hundred year old house in the dark holds plenty of real dangers. Anton can’t let Lammie go alone.

Team Flower Power

Quonzhenay is a librarian. Penny has a big stick. They’re on a mission to win a bet.

Team Witch

Ravyn Wyng Starcrossed didn’t want to come, but her Tarot cards told her to.

The Four Horsemen

It started as a prank. Now four members of the Fulsom College football team’s starting lineup are spending Halloween in a haunted house, and Blake would prefer to be left behind, please.

Unfortunately for all of them, ghosts do exist, the haunted house is much more than an abandoned Gilded Age mansion, and a dark power has Lammie in its sights.

When the night of spooky fun turns terrifying, escape is cut off. The teams unite with one goal–survive until dawn.

The ghosts may be the least of their problems.

Look for May the Best Ghost Win at all your favorite book-supplying places!

In other news, my outlining workshop is finished and is in the process of being uploaded to SkillShare (and has been for, like, three hours. My videos are still “processing,” whatever that means.), just in time for Nano (assuming the videos ever finish “processing”).

Speaking of which, if you use my SkillShare trial link, you get a free month of SkillShare. Food for thought.

(Seriously. Still processing.)

Anyway, check out May the Best Ghost Win come Sunday, and my outlining workshop whenever computer algorithms decide they like me.

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.