Reason 2002 for …

Reason 2002 for completing the outline BEFORE you start to write:

There is nothing more effective against forward progress than the dreaded "something must go here" scene, especially if you’re a linear writer who gets bogged if you continue past something that needs to be done in detail. I don’t function well with the inline notes saying to [explain X] or [Sally meets Brian here]. It’s been a while since I ran across this particular problem because I haven’t written with this spare an outline in many years.

Here’s my normal process (in sketch):

1) Write a rough synopsis of the whole plot from beginning to end (because synopses always include the end :)).
2) Write a jumble of notes, some of which are scenes, some of which are partial scenes, some of which are multiple scenes.
3) Put them into linear order.
4) Review them for timeline or story tension issues
5) Polish them to make sure the scenes cover what needs to be said in the way it needs to be said.

Okay, that’s a very high level take, but mixed in there is "identify all the places where for timeline, pacing, or tension, I need to add transition scenes. Scope out the shape of them."

Sometimes those "scopes" still give me trouble when I get to them, but I can see the scene notes, and if I think around it for a while, I can find an entry point. It helps to know it’s coming because I can start nudging around for that entry point while writing the previous scenes.

So imagine my dismay when I glanced ahead this morning and realized that coming off a highly emotional scene, I then jumped some 20 days into the next kicker. Umm, no. I don’t care about all the rules that say to "skip the boring parts." You don’t hop, skip, and jump your reader through the story. That ends up making them feel like they’re on a pogo stick rather than driving a fast car. While both can be thrilling, the first leaves you feeling a little jounced around and dislocated.

So what did I do? I stole from Peter to pay Paul. I took some of the substance out of the next upcoming scene and pushed it into a midstream transition scene that gives (I hope) a sense of how things have been going while also cranking up the tension about what’s going to happen next. My heroine is now divided between what she wants and what she thinks she should do, made more complicated by the fact that the situation isn’t really in her control anyway.

Or rather that’s what I did after I found the entry point. Wasting a whole day trying to figure my way into a scene that I didn’t realize was needed until too late was no fun. It makes me even more nervous about the state of my outline, though I’ve still got a good nine or so scenes before it gets really shaky. What if there are more transition scenes I’ve missed? What if I’m faced with a point where the entry takes another whole day to discover? And how do I keep from letting the fact that I know some 14k from now I’m going to fall off the end of the Earth (okay the outline) into no man’s land result in writer’s block, or at least writer’s slow as I try not to get there?

The answers are varied:

1) I swear never to do this to myself again (yeah right, but it sounds good and reassuring).
2) I plan to spend a good portion of the weekend strengthening that outline, getting it fleshed out through all the way to the end.
3) Take a deep breath and know that some 10-15 scenes from now, the book will meet the NaNo standards for a win. If I have to stop dead and redo the outline with no forward motion at all, I will still have laid claim to my purple bar. For that, I only need to add one more scene and maintain the current word count per scene average. Since I know some of the scenes coming up are likely to run long–and may actually break into more than one scene–I’m on pretty firm ground where the 50k is concerned.

And yes, I’m watching in the back of my head so I can put together that workshop on initial outlines a handful of FMers, and others, have requested. Maybe it’ll give me the opportunity to get ahead so next NaNo I can choose one of my completed outlines to do…assuming the Muse Conference doesn’t slam another brand new idea right up to the front line that is :p.

And stats:
35 scenes
25 complete – 71% of the novel
24 Scenes remain
14,183 Remaining word count
49,641 Estimated length – with an average of 1,418 words per scene.
35,458 Current total

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6 Responses to Reason 2002 for …

  1. newguydave says:

    Many writers will swear that outlines are horrible to write, and would rather slug away organically. Then they complain that they waste time and energy fighting writers block.

    I’m surprised there is not more outlining done, after all, it is a skill you need after your first book is sold. An agent often tries to pre-sell your next story based on a synopsis.

    R.A. Salvatore said in an interview with Wizards of the Coast that his agent and editor know his outline is simply that, and often his story runs away from the outline, only to end up a better story. I like that idea. Let it flow.

    • marfisk says:

      Yes, well, I’m an advocate of the outline as a guideline. I follow it until it leads me in another direction :). That means the outline is naturally an iterative process, but I just like to start writing some iterations ahead of where I did on this one :).

      I’ll admit that I started out anti-outline. I have a bachelor’s degree that includes literature, so I have a lot of experience with outlining, and an academic outline didn’t connect with my more organic approach to writing.

      After exposure to Holly Lisle’s plotting with note cards and Lazette Gifford’s phase outlines though, I realized outlining was just a step in the narrative process. Where organics do their learning and growth in the first draft, I get it out of the way in the outline, a hard-won skill, but one that should serve me well in the years to come.

  2. hoshikaze says:

    I’m trying to get a better process down with outlines for my writing. With writing fantasy this year for Nano I find I’m relying more on what bit of outline I have then I did for my 2006 Nano which was mainstream. Then again that was my first completed novel draft, and even 2 years later I still don’t know where I want what little bits of story in there to go.

    I like your process, the rough synopsis does sound like a good place to start. I did one for a short story once, which was actually kind of fun to write.

    • marfisk says:

      The rough synopsis also helps tell whether you have a full story before you spend a lot of time on the outline only to find it isn’t going anyway. I’m also an advocate of outlining when you go to edit for just the reason you state. It helps identify where the bits and pieces go :).

      What I find is my initial outline follows the line of the plot. The organic part is still in how the characters interact with the plot, which may occur in the iterations of the outline or in the actual writing.

  3. I never got my outline finished and I spent most of today trying to figure out what I’d already covered and what went next.

    Not feeling that great didn’t help things much. I think I might spend tomorrow finishing the outline …

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