My new approach to outlining

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve recently discovered the joys of Curio for the prewriting stages of my writing. I wish I got a commission for selling copies of that program because by the time I’m done I’ll have converted my entire readership, it’s just that cool.

Anyway, I’m a big fan of visuals. It’s probably the artistic side of my mind taking charge, but I think so much better when I can SEE a representation of my thoughts in front of me. That’s why I’m such a big fan of finding pictures to represent my characters. With that in mind I decided to try something new for plotting this story.

I’ve talked about how I outlined I Wish… in the past. For that book it was purely text. I started out with some ideas for scenes that I jotted on a piece of notebook paper and then it developed into a pretty good summary of the plot from start to finish. That’s the point when I started breaking it down into individual scenes. It worked well for me and it got the job done. I stand behind that approach for anyone. It’s not labor intensive and I knew exactly where I was in my project every single day I sat down to write.

For this upcoming project, I decided to play a little bit with my approach since I’m trying to write something that’s a little more complex. I Wish… is told from a 1st person POV so there’s no need to work out who’s POV a scene will be in and there aren’t a lot of crazy subplots. It’s a very linear story.

I’ve gotten a lot more ambitious with my upcoming project (F My Afterlife) and it was becoming difficult to write everything I want to happen in a summary because there are scenes that exist to lay down clues to crimes as well as clues to more subtle things like a shared history that will color their reactions to each other throughout the book. How on earth do I keep track of all that?

I briefly considered doing something similar to what I’ve done in the past with Onenote. With ON I was able to set up a page for each scene with a few sentences or more of description of what’s supposed to happen in the scene. Then I can easily move the pages up and down to try out different orders or add new pages as new scenes occur to me during the planning stage.

Since Curio supports mind mapping, I decided to use the that to my advantage. It’s easy to move the bubbles up and down in the map. I can color code each branch (including all the sub levels) so that I can tell at a glance who’s POV the scene will be in. And perhaps the most useful for an outline is the fact that I can convert the mind map into a traditional outline and back again at will. I’ve been calling this process “scene-storming” because I dig cheesy names.

Screen grabs anyone? You know how I like them. 😉

Screen Shot 2011-12-14 at 2.53.37 PM.png

So this is pretty much what it looks like. I have a quick scene description and the sub branches are just me going into more detail about what happens during the scene. I make as many of those kinds of notes as I want. It’s my guide post to writing the scene later so the more, the better. If there are other things I need to consider such as maybe there needs to be a long lingering look or a visual clue slipped into the description I’ll make a sub level bubble for it.

Screen Shot 2011-12-14 at 2.57.08 PM.png

This is pretty blurry, but hopefully you can tell that it’s a traditional outline. It’s just a super long column of information. But I’ll probably refer to it a lot as I’m writing to make sure I’m on track. Actually, I’ll probably have a copy of both views so I have options for tracking the information.

Screen Shot 2011-12-14 at 3.02.26 PM.png

Another thing I’m doing differently during this process is keeping a “parking lot”. It’s a concept that was introduced in a couple of different training classes I took years ago. The concept is to let the instructor know any questions or terms you want to have explained in great detail later and he’ll either write it on a white board in a designated spot or else write it on a post it note to stick on the wall. It keeps things from getting derailed without losing any important information along the way.

My parking lot is full of snippets that aren’t quite worth their own scenes or that I’m not 100% sure which scene they should be mentioned in. Maybe it’s something like a connection I want to make between two characters at some point. What does not go there are full fledged scene ideas. If I have an idea for a scene, it goes on the mind map/outline no matter how vague it is. I have plenty of scenes labeled something like “Scene where hero finds a clue”. What clue? I don’t know yet. It doesn’t matter at this stage. It’s just a place holder for later.

As I come up with new ideas for this outline, I’m adding, rearranging, and deleting scenes like crazy. That’s the awesome thing about outlining before you write. I feel free to change things drastically as my ideas develop because all I’m losing is a few words rather than 30 pages and hours of writing. There’s just not as much at risk.

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1 Comment

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One response to “My new approach to outlining

  1. Pingback: Scene-storming Redux | Wren's Writing Nest

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