24 November 2008

Following a Weathered Outline...

So, you'll have to excuse the multitude of puns in today's title O:) Puns, you ask? What puns? Ahh. Bear with me but a moment, and I shall reveal all *looks wise and knowing*

Firstly, following: I'm sure a lot of you are aware, but blogger has developed this nifty little concept called 'following', whereby you can elect to follow a blog and thence have it appear on your blogger dashboard, conveniently letting you check all blogs you're following at once, and see at a glance who's updated and who hasn't. Consider this your official *poke* to FOLLOW MEEEEEEE! :) There's a handy link over there in the sidebar, right below Works In Progress, if you'd like to become a follower.

(As an aside, don't you just love how secret-cult-shall-rule-the-world that sounds? Hello, everyone, this is my blog, and these are my followers......)

Next, weather. This is completely unrelated to the blog, but it's just so jolly unfair I feel compelled to mention it. I live in Australia. AUS-TRA-LI-A. It is November. NO-VEM-BER. This, dear weather gods, means it's nearly Summer. This is NOT the appropriate time to start dumping the best snow of the year. \:|

Right. Which brings me to outlines, and the following of them :D As every tactician knows, no plan survives first contact with the enemy; and as every writer knows, no outline survives first contact with the story.

When I started writing The Project, I had a vague idea of where it was going, and that was all. It didn't matter too much: the entire object of writing it was an exercise in plot, in learning to race from one troublesome situation to whatever problem my muse came up with next. But there came a point when the time travel and multiple subplots got the better of me, and I outlined. Just one sentence per scene, in a pretty little table in a word document.

It was good enough to get me through to over halfway, but naturally, it couldn't remain intact. So, when I decided to start rewriting TP in order to get the characters right, since I knew the plot and twists etc, I broke out my outlining tools to give the book a bit more oomph, and to make sure I had everything covered. Hence, it's my weathered outline ;) It's weathered the storm of most of a first draft, and is still a bit rough (weathered, ha ha) around the edges! Gwa! *is proud of puns* O:)

This is the complete outline:

Yeah, I know, you can't see a thing. If you could, though, what you'd see would be something like this:

That's nice, you say, but what does it all mean? Well, each card has a sentence on it (roughly; work with me here ;)) that corresponds to a scene. The letter in the circle at the top right of each card is the POV; the green stripe or lack thereof at the top left indicates to me which timeline the card is in (past, present or future). The colours down the right hand side indicate which plot threads the scene relates to, selected from the following:

Don't know if you can read that or not, but it basically says pink is developing sympathy for the girl, blue is solving the mystery (the main thrust of the story), yellow is revealing past events, orange is a third party subplot, and purple is 'Angela', the second POV character.

So, why did I go to all the effort of writing this down on cards, and colour-coding, etc? Isn't that an awful lot of work for something that - again - may not survive first contact?

Well, yes... But no. Writing out the outline like this* has lots of advantages. Firstly, there's the visual aspect - you can see everything at once, all out in front of you, and it's dead easy to pick up the cards and shuffle them around and see what happens to your timeline - and your story. All sorts of connections can be formed that you'd never have found otherwise.

Secondly, you can immediately identify the weak spots in the plot: sentences that drag, that have no conflict, or that are just plain boring are usually indicative of scenes that do the same. Conflict is the meat of any writing, and this is a quick way to spot places you might be lacking.

Thirdly, the whole colour-coordination thing: subplots. Unless you're writing YA, MG, or really short books, you absolutely need subplots. My current wip, Jesscapades, has no less than 11 plot strands at present. And the easiest way I've found to keep track of them all is colour coding. Once again, it's a visual thing: you can see it all there in front of you, and you can tell at a glance how much of the book is devoted to which plot threads, places where perhaps you've ignored a thread for too long, and places where you might be able to introduce a new one - or even ways which you can combine threads if you have too many for the book you're writing. It's also a great way to make sure you've tied up all your threads. That's what the big black dot on card 35 above means: I've tied off plot threads pink and purple.

Not everyone likes outlining, and most outlines end up looking nothing like the finished book. But that doesn't mean there's no use for them, as I hope I've demonstrated. And not only can you use this to do a check of how you're going, getting the cards out and shuffling them around can be a great way to unstick yourself if the story feels like it's getting out of hand; a handful of white squares seems so much more manageable than nebulous story concepts colliding in your head.

So, do you outline? Why or why not? How far do you go? And would you ever consider this method?

* If you're a pantser, who absolutely cannot outline before writing, consider using this method for editing and revising instead. If you're an outliner, you can use this method then too.


Yunaleska said...

I tried outlining. It dampened my muse a lot. So I don't, not if I want to get stuff written! I outline in my head in great detail. It never passes the first hurdle of getting onto paper. Characters take over and write the book their way!

Windsong said...

*stands in awe of Inky*

I wish I could be so organized. Somewhere inside of me is an organized person struggling to get out. Unfortunately, that disorganized person is right out on top.

Have tried outlines to no avail. Unless you consider my outlines are generally 60,000 words long. :p Then it's all revisioning from there.

Lady Glamis said...

I DEFINITELY outline. My "weathered" outline for The Breakaway taught me how.

The Snowflake Outline is MY SAVING GRACE, and I LOVE IT!

I haven't done it for Monarch yet, which is why I'm having a hard time with it, but it's NaNo. I'll outline in December.

And I can't start the Snowflake Outline until I've got a good portion of the book, anyway.

Your outlining method looks very handy. I think I may use it for Monarch as a supplement to my regular outlining. There is also another method of analyzing and organizing your story that my hubby learned in his Script Analysis class. I'll have to do a post on it sometimes. It's complicated, but really, really cool.

YAY! I'm already following your blog. :) But you never comment on mine.... *folds arms and pouts*

Love ya, Inky! Thanks for sharing.

(I like the word verification: captor) hehehe

Just_Me said...

And, you know, all I picture is the toddler rampaging through the house throwing my plot everywhere.

My other problem with plotting is that I move to the logical next step. Which doesn't always have tension. It's just the step that makes sense. I'll have to see what I can do about that. :o(

Windsong said...

Lei, you crack me up! Funny thing is, I can see that too. Your toddler will throw your plot everywhere, and mine will eat my plot. :D

Inkblot said...

*laughs* I love the impression you all have of me being organised, because of this. In fact, it's the complete opposite. The whole reason I broke out the cards was so that I could become organised - my first draft was messy and unordered :)

Glam - for me, snowflaking is too much. It kills the passion of the story, and the desire to write it. I've outlined it all in detail, why bother writing? :) Glad it works for you though :D

L - at least you'd get an interesting plot O:)

Lady Glamis said...

Inky -

Interesting view. It may kill the "passion" in writing the story, but I found that it was exciting to write the outline, and made me even more excited to fill in all the details.

Snowflake makes you flesh out characters much more than you ever would just writing your story. It's giving you more details about the characters, not the story. And I HAVE to know my characters in order to write a good story.

I like it because I know EXACTLY what my story is doing. I like it because it treats the story as a 3 Act Process, like a play, which is the best way to tell a story, in my opinion.

If I don't follow a detailed plan, I'm going to get seriously lost - maybe more excited and passionate about what I'm writing, BUT LOST.

Sorry. Just thought I'd explain a little more. :)

Inkblot said...

No need to apologise :) It's interesting to hear what works for others, and why :)

It doesn't work for me because as I said, I 1) get bored, and 2) feel like there's no room for 'serendipity', those accidental stumbles of direction that usually turn out brilliant.

As for structure, though, it's perfectly possible to write a 3-act structure without snowflaking. Most of my stories are at least loosely 3-Act, some more or less. The points I am for are thus:

Act 1 - for me, usually about 7 chapters. Intro the MCs, the villains, the main thrust of the conflict, and hopefully the subplots. Ends with a major raising of the stakes, a call to action, if you will.

Act 2 - the meat of the story, with escalating conflict. The midpoint of the book will be the 'everything changes' moment, where the MC realises something they'd previous clung to is completely wrong; their attitude changes, their focus shifts.

The borderline between acts 2 and 3 is the climax.

Act 3 - the denouement. Ties up all the subplots, shows the after-the-climax situation and resolution of some sort. For me, usually very short - 1-4 chapters.


Inkblot said...

L, pondering your comment further.

First up, taking the time to write out a line for every scene is actually a great way to make sure every scene has conflict. I'll do a post on The Sentence next week for you :)

Secondly, the toddler throwing the plot around. You jest, but in all honestly, sometimes this can be a good thing. The ability to throw cards around, to shuffle the scenes so easily into any order, is actually quite liberating. Your subconscious makes a whole bunch of connections that you'd never have thought of otherwise - and no one ever said you had to write your book linearly. Flashbacks, flashforwards, alternate timelines... Shuffling your plot cards can be a great way to introduce conflict.

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