Thursday, April 22, 2010

Step four: hey outline, it's not me, it's you

First of all: welcome new followers! This site comes with a money-back guarantee (not valid in any countries on the planet Earth), so enjoy with ease.

Okay, here's the big bad. Color coordinated post-its: fun. Acting out scenes in the car: fun. Board of Great Importance: fun.

Outlining and outline revision: super not fun.

I mentioned this in the comments section over at Elana's blog, but I came to this way of life the hard way. Like, scrapping 40K words hard way. Sometimes (read: yesterday) I still fight against my natural urge to throw words down on the page and see where they lead me. A simple recreation:

Angel JEM: Hmm, the middle of our story is sagging a little, I think we need to go back to the outline and brainstorm.
Devil JEM (rubs devil hands together): No, let's just keep writing and see what happens.
Angel JEM: Remember when we did that last time and we had to rewrite this story like five times? Haven't you learned your lesson, Devil JEM?
Devil JEM: Lessons are for whimps and lesser losers. Let us shirk the shackles of responsibility and sail ahead!
Angel JEM: Did you just say shirk?
Devil JEM: Focus, Angel JEM.

Then the conversation devolved into whether or not to eat a cupcake, and no one needs to be subjected to that recreation. However, Angel JEM won eventually (not on the cupcake, sadly) and I've since returned to the outline to do a diagnostic.

So technique number four, gentle readers, is not just to outline but to periodically revisit the outline at strategic points in the writing process to make sure it still makes sense. Even after carefully outlining the first time I have since moved scenes around, added and deleted scenes, and changed characters. As annoying as it is to make those changes in the outline (they're already written, right?), it helps when going back through the story to figure out what's happened and when it happened. It's kept the pacing tight and helped me track subplots even when other scenes intervene.

Outlines are like cars: they need tune-ups, too. At a natural stopping point in your story (after a major scene, 20K words in, whatever suits your fancy), check on the outline and make sure it still makes sense. A good indication that you need to do some outline revising is when you get to the end of a scene or chapter and you don't immediately know where to go from there. Not that that's what happened to me...

Tonight, chitlins, I'm off to Book Club for the first time in months. Why I waited so long to talk about books with other people, I don't know.


beth said...

*shudder* I can't stand revisions!!! And, I'm terrible at them. Blergh! Good luck!

Elana Johnson said...

Oh. Crap. I'm so screwed.

Number one, I don't have an outline to even go back to.

Number two, you mean it's bad to delete 25,000 words from the end of your novel and try again? And then again?


Third, I never know where I'm going to go when I get to the end of a scene/chapter.


JEM said...

Elana, if I could produce as many words as you as quickly as you do, I wouldn't have to worry about revisions. My brain=slooooooooooow.

Lola Sharp said...

What Elana said! The movie that plays in my head while I write deviates, derails almost immediately from any outline I might have attempted. The characters reveal themselves to me and drive the story.

Hence, my hatred of the second (third...) draft...revision hell.

What genre do you write?

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Yeah, my outlines are quite messy by the time I've finished the first draft. But I couldn't work without one. My revisions take long enough as it is. Without an outline, I'd take me years to write and edit a book only for me to flush it down the toilet. Oh wait! That wouldn't work. Then I'd be stuck with a HUGE plumbing bill. Definitely sticking with with outlining. :D

Solvang Sherrie said...

I had to do an outline for my class. Still not convinced it was a good thing. I got stuck after about 50 pages, just like when I fly by the seat of my pants. Hmmm...