Adventures in outlining

I’m not entirely sure how other writers handle the outlining phase of writing.  I know some don’t even bother.  You pantsers out there are some brave souls, but I’ve tried taking that particular leap of faith and the landing… not pretty.  I’ve tried the traditional method of outlining, the kind you learn in middle school, but that doesn’t work for me either.

I’ve read and reread an article by Lazette Gifford about a method she uses that she calls phase drafting.  I’ve googled the term and found a few other articles about it, but I’m not really any closer to understanding it than I was when I started.  What I take away from it is that she writes a really really rough, rough draft that she later embellishes.  I just don’t get the numbering involved.  Unless it’s just meant as a way to hold herself accountable by being able to say that she’ll do 10 phases today or something.

I think the method I’ve settled on after some experimentation isn’t too far removed from that.  I don’t bother with phases, but instead I write a chronological summary based on notes I’ve taken while brainstorming.  I use OneNote for all my pre-writing.  Even the notes I write myself on paper are typed up and added when I have a few minutes.  It just helps to have all my information in one place and OneNote has the advantage of being searchable.

To break it down, my first step is coming up with an idea.  Sometimes I start with a plot and sometimes with a character that really speaks to me.  Personally, I enjoy when I think of the plot first because it seems easier to come up with well developed characters than an interesting (and coherent) plot.  I ask myself questions.  Lots and lots of what ifs.

After I’m satisfied I’ve created a pretty decent base to work from, I write myself a summary from start to finish of the proposed plot.  OneNote works fantastic for this part, but I’m sure any note taking method would be fine.  I write my summary on a page with liberal notes along the margin and in some places in parenthesis in the middle of the summary to clarify my ideas to myself.  Some of these are pretty sarcastic, but nobody else will ever see them so that’s fine.  Since I’m working on book one of a proposed trilogy, I’ve been using different highlighter colors to mark things that are laying the groundwork for revelations that won’t happen until a later book.  There’s probably an easier way to plan a series, but I’ve never attempted one so I’m learning as I go.

Once I’ve completed my summary I start the outline process.  Which in my case is to start making scene “cards”.  I ended up using yWriter again this time.  Someday I really will use Word, I promise.  In someone else’s system this part would probably be done on index cards, but I’m too wordy for that to work for me.  So what I do is create a new scene in yWriter for each proposed scene (made up as I’m going along based on the summary I’ve already written and taking into account the notes in the margin that remind me that I need to work in a clue at this point or not to forget to come up for a reason why this character wasn’t around in this scene, etc…).  yWriter has an area where you can give a description of what happens in the scene.  I use it for filing in a really detailed summary of the scene.  Like I said, it’s not phases, but I will write several paragraphs per scene with anything I want to add to the scene, including dialog if I know it.

I’m about halfway done with my scenes.  My youngest is in bed for the night which gives me a nice long block of uninterrupted thinking time.  If luck is with me, I should be able to finish this tonight.  When I’m done, I’ll be ready to start the actual writing.  From there it’s just a matter of putting words on paper.  And that’s the part where it all falls apart.  I’m a great planner, but I can’t seem to get more than 30 pages in before I feel an overwhelming need to go back and rewrite it all.  Before long, I’ve totally lost all enthusiasm for the project.

This time I’ve given myself a time frame to work with.  Like NaNoWriMo, but just for me.  I want to have the first draft finished by February 15th.  I may go straight into the second book and let the first one rest for awhile, but that doesn’t matter.  All I want is a finished manuscript, ready for edits.  If I can do that much, I’ll be so proud of myself for overcoming the inner editor long enough to actually finish a project.  Go me!


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