Yesterday, I posted about the process of discovery writing here. Today, I’m covering outlining, but, first, a quick anecdote about a short story I’m writing.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of discovery writing is the unexpected twists that come out of nowhere. I’m writing about a teenager who has an intense disdain for one of the village elders. As I’m portraying an encounter between the two characters, this line pops up on my screen:
It was the first time Sange had ever heard his father express anything but love for any rule.
Wow. I had no idea that the elder was the character’s father, but the discovery took the story to a new level and made a lot of sense. Of course, I had to go back to add some clues so the revelation will flow with the story, but the benefit to the overall piece makes the extra work so worth it.
Given that I enjoy my typical process, you may be surprised to learn both that I outline scenes often and that I intend to outline an entire book for an upcoming project. I can hear you asking, “Why?”
The best advice I’ve read on being a productive writer is to have a plan for what you’re going to write before you sit down. Sometimes, this advice isn’t needed. I sit down, and the words flow. Other times, there is absolutely nothing more intimidating than a blank Word document. In those times, it helps so much to figure out where you want the scene to go via an outline. The following is a scene outline that my collaborator and I did for The Slender Man Massacre 3.2:
- He goes back to searching and finds something/keep that nebulous
- He texts Christy “I think I got something. Tell you in the morning. Phone almost dead.
- Battery icon turns read and phone shuts off.
- He feels like someone is watching him
- Looks fast over his shoulder
- Thinks he sees movement
- Shakes his head and goes back to reading
- Feels breath on the back of his neck
- Pushes chair back and stands and there’s no one there.
- “that’s it. I’m outta here.”
- Shuts down computer.
- Hears a noise – a book falls.
- He wants to bolt out the door.
- Mrs Selig would kill me.
Note that I’m just looking for ideas and fragments, not a formal outline with headings and Roman numerals. I keep the list below the text I’m writing, and delete the bullet points as I incorporate them into the scene.
When I finish the third draft of Power of the Mages, I intend to put the book aside for eight full weeks. I don’t want to look at it or even think about it. I don’t plan to give up writing for that time period, however. In fact, I have ambitious plans – I want to write the complete rough draft of a scifi adventure novel in those eight weeks. At 8k words/week, that’s 64000 words, a perfect target length for what I have planned.
The problem is that 8000 words is about 3000 more words than I would typically assign myself as a weekly goal, especially since I’m also going to be writing four chapters of The Slender Man Massacre during the same time period and continuing to blog. To put it frankly, if I’m going to accomplish my objective, I’m going to have to be efficient; I’m going to have to outline.
What I need to do between now and the end of February is come up with a complete, scene-by-scene outline of the book.
I read a lot of questions that come down to “where do I even begin” when it comes to outlining. I understand this question. Contemplating the massive undertaking of planning an entire book can be overwhelming. The trick, I think, is to break it down into manageable pieces.
I start with the overall concept. I know who my protagonist is and his Eventual Love Interest (ELI, so I’ll call her Ellie for now). I know that aliens are going to invade the earth in chapter 1 killing a lot of people, and I know that the protagonist is going to stop the invasion.
In Excel, I put C1.1 – Ellie, a movie star, is on the beach doing a photo shoot. Alien crafts appear.
Next, I want to cut to my protagonist. C1.2 – Hero is watching a movie on DVD starring Ellie.
I know that at some point, Ellie is going to get people to move from the beach to an underground garage. Hero is going to watch footage of the aliens killing everyone with a death ray. I don’t know exactly the chapter or scene, so I just type each idea into a cell. I’ll go back later and fill in the details, just as I’ll go back to each scene to add details to make a full outline.
The point is to keep going and adding details until it is all done. I don’t concentrate on any one area to its completion unless the inspiration strikes me. In this way, building the story slowly and naturally, I don’t get overwhelmed by the enormity of the tasks.
I’ll keep you updated as to how it’s going. Until then, what method do you use? Any organizational tips for us?