Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

On Outlining (4 of 4)

Part 1      Part 2     Part 3

Theory and Practice

I don’t outline the whole book at once – or at least, I didn’t outline A Box of Ink all at once. I shouldn’t talk like I’ve written a library.

Here is what I did do:

  • Outlined four acts by major ending points.
  • Adjusted my chapter count based on overall word count in descending amounts.
  • Outlined act I with plot points; opening scenes; closing interest.

Then I started writing. From the background that I’ve done already, I know that I’m going to be changing a lot of things up, so I don’t want to spend too much time outlining the next acts because Things Will Be Discovered.

I wrote five chapters. I had a beta reader check it – interesting? Good start? Do you want to turn the page? Yes? Great. *Phew.*

I wrote six more chapters, and that’s the first change: in theory, act I had 12 chapters. In practice, it has 11.

Then I started to outline act II. I got a little lost in the weeds with my details and my outlining was a lot sketchier. As I made some delightful discoveries in the writing, I was able to go back to the outlines and get a better sense for how the rest of the act needed to progress.

Incidentally, when I started “On Outlining” a week and a half ago, I was giving a quick polish to Act I. Since then, I’ve written 7/10 chapters in Act II, which I could well have finished up by tomorrow. I don’t know that this will work so well every time out, but right now, I’m mighty pleased.

While there’s a lot of planning that goes into this method, I’m still very free-form while I’m in the middle of each chapter. I get to write whatever scene I want. If something makes more sense because of the flow of my writing, I can adjust my next scene. I can throw in a new hurdle for Jill to overcome. In chapter 7, I discovered a plot point that I hadn’t accounted for, so I went through the previous couple of chapters and added in the necessary detail to account for this New Thing.

Piece of cake.

What I’m getting (so far) is a very organically realized book with a lot of homework. I can tell you while I’m writing it why a scene that feels like fluff matters and where it’s going to come up again (by act, if not by chapter).  And best of all, I’m moving quickly through the actual storytelling, which is kind of a joy.


2 responses

  1. I outline minimally too. Maybe not “outline” as much as research for things like popular names, coat of arms, legends, settings . .

    In my head, I know what the story is about, and where certain scenes have to happen to move the plot along; but after that, I want to be surprised by how the characters get to “the end” as I’ve envisioned it.

    You have several story-type posts I need to come back and read. Just doing a basic flyby today to say “hello”.


    November 17, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    • Let me know if you’ve got posts on your process (past or present) – it’d be great to compare.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:45 pm

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