Tuesday, September 30, 2014
My Messy Outlining Technique—also known as just get the freaking thing done
In the past, I’ve worked from very basics outlines created by writing the story’s turning points on index cards, pinning them to a bulletin board, then filling in with more index cards as I drafted and ideas came to me. I never worried about how long drafting took me, but it was never fast. However, now that I have deadlines set by a publisher, it seemed like time to try creating and using a more detailed outline, to speed drafting and reduce revision time.
After bitching about outlining for a few days and whining about how I didn’t know what to do, I realized the only way was to simply quit wasting time and plunge in.
First, I printed off the two page synopsis I’d created for my agent and editor. Then I got out WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK by Donald Maass. In the appendix of the workbook, Maass has a technique for creating an outline by answering questions. It didn’t create a detailed outline like I wanted. But, by combining Maass questions with my synopsis, I ended up with a solid skeleton, some nifty new scene snippets and my brain was jolted into action.
Next, I reminded myself that no one was going to see this outline and I started playing. Scene by scene, I added flesh to the skeleton. I moved details when I found places they fit better. I combined settings to strengthen the pace. I added wild and weird ideas that might or might not work, and even snippets of dialogue and mini-scenes that came to me. Most importantly, I kept reminding myself to have fun—that the outline was just for me.
(The back section of this notebook is a hardcopy of my new detailed outline)
At the same time, I tried something else new. To me, building a story isn’t just about words, goals, conflict and disasters. It’s also about visualizing. So I created secret Pinterest boards and collected images and music to accessorize the outline. One board is for a specific character I needed to know more about. It’s devoted to all aspects of her: her appearance, her soul, what she would wear and eat, her magic, how she evolves through the story, her moods and even the camper-van she lives in at the beginning of the story. Pretty much any detail that reminds me of her and her actions in the story went on a board. Another board is for a new setting and another for a main plot thread. My favorite board simply has surreal images, since this story is paranormal. Looking for pins helped me detail existing ideas, inspired new ones and even gave me a few story twists as well. Best of all, since I’m not going to start drafting this manuscript until December, these boards will make it easy for me to quickly bring even the tiniest details back to mind. (My public boards for book one are Here ).
It took me a little over a week to finish the written outline and collect the images. Then I went back and cut a few ideas that I knew wouldn’t work and did the same with the images. The outline I ended up with reminds me of a rhinoceros. It’s a bulky 28 pages (just under 18,000-words). It’s messy with wrinkles and bumps. It charges forward at a reckless pace. It is not a pretty delicate thing, but I’m thrilled with it. And I’m 100% sure this will make writing a first draft much quicker and cleaner.
(View of mountains near my house)