Today is all about outlining, a subject which may or may not interest you.
As a double graduate in Fine Arts and English Literature I was quite lost at the beginning of this whole, “I think I’d like to write books now” part of my life. I tried once, was told it was ‘good’, but nothing remarkable (this is when I only shared with friends). So, I bought two books:
Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success
Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story
both by K.M. Weiland.
I personally got a lot more out of the first, not to say Structuring wasn’t useful, but I read a lot of books, and had a more clear image of what happens there than I did in the Outlining.
Outlining Your Novel had a great many hints and techniques, none of which I’ll really discuss here (because, A. it would takes ages, and B. buy the book). But I found a system that works pretty, bloody well for me. It involves a table, a whole lot of mini notecards, and an excel spreadsheet. I am very, very detail-oriented when it comes to the creation stage; before, during the idea stage I’m all la-di-da daydreaming is grand, and oh! What if this happened?
But when it’s time to write it is time for structure and I am probably too strict on myself. There’s always room for something new to happen, or my characters to misbehave (as characters are wont to do), but I have a guideline.
It starts with that table and those notecards. I write as many plot/story points as I have figured out on those cards and put them in the order of events. Now, this ought to show me where I need to fill in the gaps between A—-F—–R, S, T—–Y? Generally, there’s a lot of brainstorming here and cursing and card-shuffling until I am satisfied. Then, and this is very important, you number them before you collect them from the table. Or, you cry. Only once, never again. Also, if you have cats…. lock them out of the table room. Any animal which can, and will, maliciously walk atop your cards and shuffle them about is not to be allowed in, also goes for humans, of any size or age.
Once I have my numbered plot point cards in order I type them into Excel. Usually with a header that looks like: chapter/ scene #/ plot point/ setting & day & time/ things to remember (foreshadowing, who’s there, important items or lines to be said).
By the time I am done I am angry and need about a 2-day nap. But by Hades, if I don’t have a pretty outline. Print that sucker up and start writing.
But remember, an outline is only a map, and it’s OK to take detours and off-road sometimes.
P.S. I really don’t like teaching English in Japan, but I am very good at it. Also, I smile a lot and am polite while doing it, so no one’s onto me yet.