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.