Thursday, August 13, 2015

Outlining


I realize it's been a while since I've blogged about craft or my own writing. Imagine that! Kind of silly since this is, after all, a writing blog! So...

Today I'm working on outlining. I'm not outlining a new story, but I'm working on reoutlining the end of a draft. (Is "reoutlining" even a word? It should be!)

How I work:
I outline a whole novel, breaking it down from start to finish. I love having a road map to follow, or a skeleton to fill in and make solid. Still, my outline is fluid. I often tend to come up with more interesting pieces as I write or I find flaws in some of my earlier ideas. Since this can never be predicted, the roads on my map change, the bones of my skeleton alter.

Once I've outlined, I start writing. At the beginning of a new chapter or sometimes before particular scenes, I do a basic outline again, writing down what I'm hoping to accomplish. If bits of dialogue or any other details hit me or float across my brain while outlining, I make note of them before I can forget them. 

This process requires me to change my bigger map from time to time. Right now is one of those times. I know where I'm headed and I know many of the things that have to happen between now and the end of the book, but I have to get them in the ideal order, eliminate paths that no longer feel right, and fill in spots. Since I can always cut things later, I tend to over-write in earlier drafts--or in new sections of older drafts. I'm not letting myself go back and edit yet (at least, not much) because I want to get to the end of this draft. Instead, I make notes to myself for the next draft. Suggestion: keep notes in the same place so they're together and easy to locate.

Right now I'm finding note cards to be helpful. I can move them and play with the order of my scenes, add cards, and remove cards. Some cards are filled, front and back, and some are just one single line. I trim (literally--with scissors) the ones that aren't full; I can always add more cards to fill in blanks and--I don't know--maybe being able to physically handle my pieces and use scissors and a pencil gives me some sort of benefit. I'm one of those people who likes to feel fabrics and paper and books when I'm shopping. Maybe I'm feeling my way through my novel's ending!

I bought Scrivener last year, but I never committed to learning it. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Scrivener is a really cool software application designed for writers, and it has all sorts of features, including a virtual corkboad with virtual note cards to help with outlining. I plan to learn it better eventually, but, as I said, I'm not yet there. I suppose my method is like Scrivener for Cavemen and Cavewomen. Tee-hee!

I discovered I can sometimes see my story clearer or fresher if I change the way I'm outlining it. For example:
*switching from a computer outline to one in a spiral notebook
*breaking my story into three acts and dangling scenes from a line
*switching from a detailed outline on pages to scenes on note cards or scenes labeled on a blank, printed-out calendar

I don't know how many of you are "plotters" (those who plot in advance) or "pantsers" (those who write without a lot of plotting ahead of time--by the seat of their pants). I'm definitely a plotter--though I leave room for and honor the magic that comes when I least expect it, the stuff I could never have thought of without writing out my story.

Of course, there isn't a correct or an incorrect method. This is just how I do things.

How about you? Are you a plotter or a pantser? If you're a plotter, please share something about the way you plot your novels! If you're a pantser, please tell me about that! I'd love to hear!