Con Shirt Outline Update

I did something on this outline that I’ve never done on this scale before and it’s killing me. I had an interesting discussion with a friend who was trying to use me as an example of how to outline. She made me come to the conclusion that I’m a fake, a fraud, not really a logical thinker at all :). Okay, this is a kind of crosswise concept, but when have I ever done anything in a straightforward manner. I’ve been planning to discuss this bit of my process for some time but never got around to it. So here we go.

I am an outliner. I like them because they enable me to work on nuance (yep, that word again) when I’m writing rather than figuring out the overall plot stuff. They also allow me to encapsulate an idea in a format that I can use at the drop of a hat if, for example, I get this crazy idea that I won’t do the National Novel Month challenge until, say, a week before day one (Demon Rules came about this way).

So my friend asks me for some good examples, which turned out not to fit her criteria at all. She’s asking me where I track the emotional evolution of the character, the character and plot arcs, etc. Me? I’m just telling a story. All that is an integrated part of the story, so it’ll be there when I need it.

She declared me an evolved organic.

I’ve thought for quite some time that my outlines, clocking in between 10k and 20k are actually more like an organic’s first draft split along POV lines than what is traditionally considered a writing outline. When pressed, I came up with this grand description: my scene blurbs contain whatever’s necessary to draw me back into the scene I saw in my head when I wrote the outline. They have bits of character emotion, scenery, scents, frustrations, physical movement, objects that need to have a place… What they don’t have is a classification of any of the traditional elements. They don’t point out character arcs, they don’t express plot points, though they may reference them if, for example, this scene has the character realize the truth about something 20 scenes ago. They’re pure narrative, more like mini synopses than anything analytical. But the trick is that they work for me. Go back to the top where I said what I wanted out of my outlines. They give me the freedom to absorb myself in the story while secure in the knowledge that it knows where to go and where to end up.

Which brings me back to what I’ve spent over 3 hours working on and am now going to quit for the night.

Armed with the above realization, scene order didn’t seem as essential. I know how to reorder scenes. I’m actually teaching a class with that as one of the elements in the Muse Online Conference in October. I’ve recommended scene reordering to increase tension and had to undergo that horrible exercise in my own works as well. But it’s always been with the bulk of something in a fixed state. Let me tell you that writing scenes out of order in my initial outline is insane! Each time I think I’ve reordered something correctly, I realize that f) can’t happen before b) and I have to start again. This whole process is complicated by the fact that I have two plot threads that interact without ever touching. Something happening in the MC’s thread sets off something in the villain’s thread so those must occur in order at the same time as several things must happen in the main thread’s subthreads that are not directly related but which build on each other.

To be honest, I’m confident in the placement of the first 3-4 scenes and the last 3-4 scenes. Pretty much the rest of the 44 scenes are up in the air and must be nailed down before Labor of Love starts on the 31st. My head aches already :p.

Oh, and the current estimate for length is 66,000. That’s actually not too bad as the market average is around 90k or so and I will probably add more when writing and then again when editing. It’s odd for me to have such a short novel though.

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17 Responses to Con Shirt Outline Update

  1. mikandra says:

    why is it a problem to be an evolved organic writer? Everyone works in their own way. I am a semi-organic writer, too. I will always know the direction of the story, but I can’t plan out the individual scenes, because when I start writing, I don’t know the characters well enough to know for certain that they will have the right state of mind to do X when X requires doing, so I might have to get anohter character to do it, or have stuff happen in a different way. Which is why writing scenes out of order in a large scale really doesn’t work for me. I can’t write the middle if I haven’t got the beginning set up properly, and I can’t write the finale if characters aren’t doing the right things in the middle.
    My point is that everyone has their own method. Stick to yours and make small changes to it if it doesn’t work. I wouldn’t let anyone tell me how to write a novel.

    • marfisk says:

      Oh, it’s not a problem. It’s more a recognition and trying to play out what that means. It took probably 4-5 attempts at outlines before I figured out what worked. But that doesn’t mean I’m not open to modification if called for. And sadly, that route leads to some failures for every success :).

      However, the good news is that I figured out the problem and so can now move forward. I wasn’t realizing I could change the interaction between the two main threads, and without doing that, I couldn’t put the other scenes where they belonged.

  2. shadawyn says:

    I outline much like you do (which I think we’ve discussed in the past). It’s funny to me because people will say “but how can you outline so much before? It takes all the surprise out of the story!”

    But it doesn’t for me. Things still grow out of the outline, the characters, the motivations, the world, even new events, and even those 15k outlines are still only half the story. Simply events and other notes I didn’t want to forget.

    I often say that no matter how much I outline, once I start writing, I only know–maybe 50% of the story. And it’s true. I think I know the events coming in. I even think I might know a fair bit about my characters.

    But there are always lots of surprises.

    • marfisk says:

      No kidding :). On Seeing Is Believing, in the last 15k, one minor character made a comment that tied a beginning subplot solidly into the whole story by revealing something I didn’t know at all. And yet it matches the movement of the story, makes sense considering the culture that he wouldn’t bandy it about, and does several other things as well.

      I think it’s much like people writing for themed anthologies. Just because you have the prompt doesn’t mean you’ll end up with the same story.

  3. l_clausewitz says:

    The difference between “outliner” and “evolved organic” there sounds a little pedantic to me. I consider myself an outliner too even though there are many things I leave unattended in my very extensive outlines, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Nobody says an outline writer has to think of everything ahead of time.

    • marfisk says:

      You may be right there. It’s more a perception than anything else. However, it’s an accepted perception that has been codified in numerous “writer help” softwares. For example, when I was using YWriter, each scene had a series of elements you were supposed to fill out. I tried, but none of that helped me. My outline has nothing to do with elements besides who the POV character is.

      Probably what it’ll turn out to be is like most things there is a spectrum of outlining, with those who chart out whether their scenes have the right amount of conflict and character change on one end and those like me who understand that the situation will prove the appropriate changes and tension so just write down the situation.

      • shadawyn says:

        Once and a while, in the process of outlining, I think I should be noting things like “what the conflict” and “what changes” and “what is the exact setting?” for each scene.

        And then I think “naw.” I just need to know what happens, and any random bits of dialog, realization or whatever that I want to remember to put in there when its time comes to write.

        Whatever gets you to the end of the story, I say. Even the stories I’ve started without any kind of outline I usually end up, as I go, plotting a couple of scenes ahead.

        • marfisk says:

          Whereas I’ve never even had the glimmer of that thought. If it’s needed, I put the comment in. If it’s not, it’s not :).

          I’ve been toying with the idea of going outline free for one of the challenges, but I doubt I ever will again. I’m not one who can’t finish a novel that way as my first 3 contest, but it takes longer.

          The only things I do without outlines as a matter of routine are short stories, and like you, I’ll outline the next few, or even all the scenes to come if I don’t finish in one sitting.

        • hoshikaze says:

          Once and a while, in the process of outlining, I think I should be noting things like “what the conflict” and “what changes” and “what is the exact setting?” for each scene.

          I’ve done that for scenes, but not until the first draft is done and I’m working on revising. I am still feeling out how much I need to outline before starting the first draft, but to much details before I start writing makes it harder.

  4. bonniers says:


    Geez, Mar, you’re such an absolutist.

    I did not call you a fake, a fraud, or an illogical thinker. And I most certainly did not say you didn’t fit my criteria. I wanted to know how you did it, and you told me. In detail that was very useful to me for comparing to my own process. But there weren’t any criteria. You deal differently with certain issues that drag me down. That makes our process different but that doesn’t mean there were ever any criteria involved.

    I don’t recall using the term evolved organic, either. I just said you let your mind play at a different stage than I do.

    You’re talking like there’s some sort of standard for outlining, and if we don’t follow it exactly we’re going to get flunked in creative writing 101. But the only standard for an outline is whether it helps the writer write a better book, or write more efficiently, or confidently, or whatever the individual is using it for. It’s a tool, not a standard.

    Your process is going to be very useful to me. Though probably not in the way you envisioned 😀

    • marfisk says:

      Re: geez…

      I obviously crossed wires somewhere in writing this last night. I didn’t say you called me a fraud. I call myself a fraud. I’ve been trying to reconcil these elements for quite some time, what I read and hear in writing classes about how to outline and what should be there. I know it works for people to have all those things logically detailed, and yet I don’t do it. At the same time I say that I outline just like everyone else. What you did helped me realize I outline differently, that my process, while on the surface appears all logical and methodical, is anything but. Sure my spreadsheet calculates the book length and manages the mundane, repetitive tasks, but my scene blurbs are chaotic, inconsistent, and sometimes impenetrable because they are useful only within the context of my mind.

  5. hoshikaze says:

    Nice post

    Thanks for posting about your thoughts on your outlining process. I’m still figuring out how much if any level of outlining works for me, and reading your post is giving me ideas on outlining a novel idea for labor of Love.

    I at least know that I’m more of an organic writer, but I need some sort of outline to keep things together. To much structure makes me get to analytical though.

    And good luck with Con Shirt.

    • marfisk says:

      Re: Nice post

      Thanks and you’re welcome.

      I have this problem with classifying myself. There’s a reason my website (the one I’m replacing as soon as I finish up) is left brain/right brain. I have the characteristics of both at random intervals. It just figures when I think I’m being analytical that I’m really not :D.

  6. barbarienne says:

    It has to be a continuum. I claim to be pure organic, but I confess that sometimes I write scene notes, if I have the germ of the scene but don’t feel like writing that particular bit yet.

    I have scene notes for things that won’t take place until the 5th book of the series. I’m definitely not going to write them yet, because (a) if we never sell the first book, we sure ain’t selling the 5th, so I’m not writing it unless I’ve got a contract for it, and (b) with several books’ worth of writing between here and there, I can’t even guarantee the scene will stay, so no need to write it yet.

    But you are clearly more of an outliner than I am, because holy crap, you can count your scenes. I have no freaking clue how many scenes I have in anything. I don’t even know how many scenes I have in a 2300-word short story. I think it’s just one, but maybe it’s two.

    • marfisk says:

      Oh dear! What is the world coming to? Outliners confessing to being organics, organics confessing about hidden scene notes! How will we ever figure out where we belong?! 😉

      Seriously, though, I can only count my scenes cause I type my scene notes into an outline spreadsheet that tallies them for me. I would have said…before Seeing…that I never write out of order either, and that doing so would block me up (as it did once). But a month or so ago, one of the later scenes came to me so clearly that I actually wrote it in addition to the scene notes…and yeah, I had to adjust a bit, but I was surprised at how well it integrated, especially since some of the issues it showed were not yet present in the rest of the book :). I think that was my subconscious telling me I was writing too slowly.

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