Advantages of Giving It a Go, I revealed I'm a reformed pantser, proud of casting off my old ways to plot out my stories before I write them. In the comments, M Pax asked, how then do I outline? She stumped me with the question because I hadn't thought about it before. The amusing thing is, I approach outlining much the same way as I used to approach writing: by the seat of my pants. This led me to realise there is no one true method. Each writer who wants to outline has to find a way that works for them. However, to answer Mary's question, this post is my attempt to explain how I go about outlining my stories. It's much like building a fire:
The Spark: Every novel begins as a tiny spark in the writer's mind. The ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere. One of my sparks came from a two second scene from a Shakespeare movie trailer and turned into a novel with a potential for a trilogy. The novel has nothing to do with the movie or scene which sparked it all. Of course, not every spark will catch and turn into a roaring fire that will keep the writer fuelled long enough to complete the novel. Each spark needs to be tested.
Testing the Spark: I collect sparks. I have a little notebook where I write them all down. Some ideas are a mere sentence, a 'what if?' Some are paragraphs, some are scrawled pages of notes. I recorded my latest one as a diagram. When I'm ready to begin outlining, I go through the ideas and see which grab my interest. I then focus only on the big picture: What do I want the story to be about? This is a great time to play with possible taglines for the novel. Sometimes this works for me, sometimes I need to fan the fire.
Turning the Spark into a Flame: The characters are what drive the stories for me. Some writers will do character interviews, hunt the net for pictures of actors who look like their characters, write up extensive backstories. I do none of that. Instead I pick a major weakness to give my main character, one I can exploit, one the character can overcome over the course of the story. From there the fire grows, other characters spawn as foils to the main character, and the story starts to evolve.
Feeding the Fire with Kindling: Working out the setting is a great way to feed the fire, to add those extra details to expand the ideas. In my latest work in progress (WIP) the setting came first. It developed like a main character. World-building became so crucial to the story that I wrote a novelette to gain a greater understanding of the world.
Feeding the Fire with Logs: This is my favourite part of outlining, the part many would consider the 'true' outlining. I use a mini notebook and pour out the story, chapter by chapter, from start to finish. I keep it brief. Sometimes it includes dialogue, but mostly it includes, 'this happens then this happens.' I write it fast and let the story and characters guide me.
Keeping the Fire Contained: To keep my ideas from going wild, I try to keep an eye on the big picture through the whole process. I do this by using a whiteboard and writing down each chapter in its most basic form on post-it notes. For details on how I use the whiteboard, see an older post, Writers' Tools: The Whiteboard. I'll adjust the scenes, slot in any ah-ha moments that spark, and build a cohesive story, checking the character arcs and the pacing.
And voila! This can take anywhere from one to two months. It might sound like a long time, but it saves me a lot of time and hassle in the revision stage.
Did I scare anyone off from outlining? How do you go about developing your stories?
Congrats to Suze of Subliminal Coffee for making it to the finals (top three, with the winner to be announced in September) for her novel in an international contest, Mainstream/Literary category. Woo hoo!! I'm not surprised, girl!