Making Your Outline Work For You Part 3 — February 3, 2011

Making Your Outline Work For You Part 3

We made it!  The last step of the process!  This one is time-consuming but by far the most fun of them all.

All those post-it flags and notes in the margin?  They’re coming off.

First, the easy ones.  Whatever colors you’ve designated for things to move elsewhere (4 out of 6 categories) are the ones you’ll go through first.  Go one color at a time and start cutting and pasting.  This is where your margin notes will come in handy.  You should have noted along the way where to move something to.  Mine read something like, “Use this scene for such and such bit of mythology, character history, whatever.”

As you address each of these changes, remove the post-it.  This pass-through will leave you with just two colors and two categories to address: Scenes/chapters to reconsider (which I’ve marked in mine with orange) and things hinted at or foreshadowed that need to be developed further.

These two are the meatiest of your categories and the ones the hardest and most time-consuming to address.  But your outline will work for you, not the other way around, with this method.  This outline will help you to close up plot holes, deepen characters, adequately foreshadow events, etc.

The easier of these two categories is the foreshadowing/developing further one.  For each of your post-its in this category, go back through your margin notes.  These notes will indicate places where it will flow naturally to put in a sentence, a short scene, anything that might help foreshadow without giving away or places where a small bit of backstory can be seeded to explain something you’ve indicated.

Don’t remove the post-it until you’ve fully addressed it.  This includes scenes that need to occur after the post-it, further on in the narrative.  Once you feel that you’ve added everything that needs to be in order to smooth out the plot bump, you can remove that post-it.

Now we’re only left with one color.  Scenes and chapters to reconsider.  You may find that many of these are no longer something that needs to be addressed and the post-it can be removed.  (Many of mine ended up being deleted as I went through the other five categories of changes.)  But this category also includes the scenes that you noted in the margins to add but don’t get addressed by the other five pass-throughs.

In the end, you’ll end up with a stronger story and a post-it free outline.  (At this point, for future revisions, I would suggest you create a clean outline to work off.  This one you’ve just finished with is vastly different from the manuscript as it currently stands.)

Making Your Outline Work For You Part 2 — February 1, 2011

Making Your Outline Work For You Part 2

Everyone set with their outlines all post-it noted and looking like there’s a lot of work ahead?  *crickets chirp*

Right then.  Well, we’re going to go ahead and press on to the next step.  I recommend your favorite comfort food because this is going to sting, possibly a lot.  It’s like picking off a scab.  You know it’s going to hurt but you do it anyway.  And then it hurts and you cry.  But it scabs over again.

Your first part is to knock out the easy stuff.  Pull up your latest draft, the one that’s most current and that you’ll work off of for this revision.  For me, so I don’t lose anything that maybe will find its way back in later, I copy the entire manuscript to a new file and save it with a later draft number.  This way I have a history of the story progress and if there’s something that’s absolutely worth putting back in later, I can access it rather than try to recreate it from memory.

The easy stuff is everything that you put a slash through two steps ago, the second step of the detailed outlining process.  (Which I talk about in this post.)  If there’s something in the scene that you’re deleting that you’ve marked to be moved elsewhere, I suggest you either leave that in the document file itself or you can create a separate file for those tidbits so that when you get to the next step of the process you have handy access to them.

After you’ve done that, you’ll need to move on to the next part.  This is where you start brainstorming the sutures you’ll use to put your poor baby together.

Go post-it by post-it and look at what needs to be done.  If it’s something you need to develop further, meaning it’s an event or some such that you’ve hinted at or foreshadowed or that came up unexpectedly when you were pantsing it, this is where you start looking for places you can do just that.

For each post-it go back through the scenes the preceded it or follow it, depending on where it needs to move or if it’s something to set up or address later, and note where you could put some sort of scene or revise a scene to help accomplish that goal.

In the end of this step you’ll have pages that could look like this.

Or something like this.  You’ll have notes all over your margins on some pages.  Some pages you might have nothing.  It all depends on how strong the individual scenes and chapters are.  Because the book is only as strong as its weakest scene or chapter or character.

That’s enough for today.  This post is getting long and this step can take a day or two.  Come back on Thursday (after a WiP Wednesday with my updates on how well this process is working for me.)

Making Your Outline Work For You Part 1 — January 31, 2011

Making Your Outline Work For You Part 1

Outlining?  Me?

Yes.  And I’m here to tell you how to make your outline work for you.  I’ve blogged before about the outlines that I do.  (I plan to continue this process through many many books.  It’s extremely helpful, especially this next step.)

As a refresher, the first two posts are here and here.

Now, after I’ve created my lovely outline, in a process that takes a while, feels like rolling Sisyphus’ rock, and makes you want to tear out your hair, and proceeded to tear it to pieces, I have a nice messy slate to work off.

This is the next step in the process:

Post-it Flags will be your friends in this step of the process.  Here I have 6 colors to match the 6 highlighter colors from step 2.

These and your pen will become invaluable from here on.  They’re your best tools, aside from your imagination, at this point.

You can see in the photograph that there are a ton of post-its sticking out the side of my outline.  I’ll explain.

First off, you’re going to want to set aside a good hour or more for this part.  You’re not just sticking these flags on willy-nilly.  There’s a method to the madness.

Next, I recommend a good television program or movie playing in the background so that when your eyes are swimming in colored post-its you can avert them and allow them to re-calibrate.

All settled on the couch?  Great.  Here’s where you dig in and really make this baby start working for you.  You’re now going to go page by page and put a little post-it beside every highlighter mark you’ve made in the outline.  Does your page have four different colors marked on it?  Great.  One flag of each color.  You may have to continually reference your little color key you’ve inserted in the front of your outline, but you’ll get there eventually.  You’ll start to notice that certain colors appear more than others.  This will show you where you might have a weakness or writer’s tic.

In the end, you’ll end up with the right edge looking something like this, only more colorful.  (At the point in this process I took the photos, I’d already gone through many of the parts I’ll discuss tomorrow and Thursday.)

Now that’s over, it’s time to move on to the next part of this.  Which I’ll post about tomorrow since this is already going on long enough.

Outlining — January 30, 2011
More on outlining — September 28, 2010

More on outlining

When I last blogged about my outlining process, I seem to remember that someone, somewhere, commented with the suggestion to share photos of what my outline looks like after I’ve finished tearing it to pieces.  (This after spending a couple of weeks slaving away at creating the outline.)

I thought today I’d share some photos of the process.

This is the outside cover.  I like to put a cardstock cover on top of everything, usually in a fun color, so that it seems somewhat official.  The font here doesn’t really fit the book, but it was the best I could do in my word processor.  (Photoshop had a better font.)

My other best friends for outlining are present here as well: highlighters and a pen.

Here’s my handy-dandy little key that I created for my highlighter colors.  With the Oracles Promise outline I wasn’t this smart.  The cover was green cardstock.  I didn’t tape in the white piece of paper to put the key on so the colors of the highlighters looked really funky.

6 colors, 6 categories:

History to move elsewhere (blue)
Mythology to move elsewhere (yellow)
Scene/chapter to reconsider (orange)
Hinted at/foreshadowed to be developed further (pink)
Event to move elsewhere (purple)
Character development to move elsewhere (green)

Then I go through the outline, page by page and scene by scene.  I read back through the characters, events, and locations looking for what can be condensed, eliminated, or expanded.  Elimination warrants a big old pen slash through the entire thing.  If there’s an event or some other little thing from the scene that I need to salvage, it gets a reprieve from the pen of doom and dons the appropriately colored highlighter mark.

It doesn’t show too well in this photo but almost every scene has been cut from this section.  (And this is only pages 2 and 3 of the outline.)  You can just make out, too, the little orange highlighter mark where I’ve labeled one scene out of the chapter for reconsideration.  Eventually, the entire outline will be a colorful mix of my six highlighters and pen slashes.

I hope that this helped with any lingering questions y’all may have had after the last post.  If you have any other questions go ahead and ask.  I’ll try to address them in the comments but I’ll be more than happy to do a follow-up post if it’s warranted.

Outlining — August 24, 2010


If you follow me on Twitter (and it’s okay if you don’t) you’ve read my incessant tweets about outlining.

Many of you were impressed with the length of my outline when I finished the one I did for Oracles Promise.

I thought I’d go over my process a little today.

See, I am a pantser by nature.  When I start out on a book, I have a general idea of what will happen.  My outline tends to look something like this:

I. [Insert clever chapter title]
…..A. Character A goes here and the poop hits the fan
II. [Insert clever chapter title]

You get the idea.  It’s very fluid and 99% of the time, I end up going way off outline.  (Such as it is.)

In my attempt to save Oracles Promise I set about outlining it in great detail.  This outlining thing went a lot smoother having the completed story in front of me.

I broke it down thusly:

I. Chapter title
….A. Scene 1
………1. Setting
………….(a) Place name
………2. Characters
………….(a) Character name
………….(b) Character name
………3. Events
………….(a) Event #1
………….(b) Event #2

And continue ad nauseum until you hit the end of the manuscript.

Sometimes if the chapter was really long, I’d hit AA. and so on for the scene numbering layer.

This is a very tedious process, yes.  But in the end it’s well worth it.  I quite often (probably 50% of the time) found myself writing “Transitional fluff” for events.

When I completed the outline, I uploaded it to a printing service and had it printed and bound all spiffy for me.

Then I proceeded to tear the outline to shreds.

I had a pen and 6 highlighters, all different colors.  Each color represented a different category.  History that could be included elsewhere, character development to move elsewhere, event to move somewhere else, scene to think harder about, mythology to incorporate somewhere else, and something hinted at/foreshadowed that could be developed more.

The pen was for slashing out the scenes that could be cut.  And let me tell you that was a lot.  Basically anywhere I wrote “transitional,” “filler,” or “fluff” in lieu of listing events.

And sometimes not.  If there was a scene that served no other purpose than to drop one little hint about something, something that could just as easily be moved to another scene, the scene got cut and the moving element got highlighted.

In the end I think I lost about half the scenes I’d outlined.  That was one colorful and bruised outline.

And now I’m doing the same thing for Lodestar.  It’s a process, let me tell you.  But it’s going a lot faster for some reason.  I think it’s because I have more chapters and fewer words than I did in Oracles Promise.

I’d post a picture, but I mailed all of my materials for OP home to my mom for storage.  It was just too heavy on my heart to keep all that around.

Footloose and Fancy-free Friday Musings — March 19, 2010

Footloose and Fancy-free Friday Musings

I’m a pantser.  Through and through I am a pantser.

That’s just the truth of it.

I wonder sometimes what it’s like on the other side of the fence, but I just can’t do it.

I try.  But I can’t.

So, I’m going back to my usual vague outline.  Once I get that nailed down, I’ll be able to resume writing.

Oh, and it’s supposed to snow.

I went golfing on Wednesday and it’s supposed to snow.

I hate winter.  I want it to be spring.

That is all.  Full day at work today so I won’t be around until later this evening.

Consistency thy name is EDITOR — October 29, 2009

Consistency thy name is EDITOR

On October 11, my mom and I watched the second episode of the CBS show Three Rivers.  (Sigh, Moonlight  we barely knew thee.)  My mom and I had watched the pilot episode the week before.

It’s common that from pilot to second episode there are changes.  Someone’s re-cast, a character is eliminated and another brought in, etc.  But the writers are always consistent with timelines and such.

Except on Three Rivers.  In the first episode, there’s a new transplant assistant coordinator (whatever his title is).  The doctors all know who he is, he seems to have a pretty good handle on what his job entails, etc.

In episode 2, he’s just being hired.  No one knows him and he’s thrust into an entirely new situation that he has no idea how to handle.  He doesn’t seem able to do his job, etc.

Consistency thy name is EDITOR.

Or, in our case, internal editor.  For writers, we have to know everything about our characters, etc. there is to know before we start writing so that we can stay consistent.  This will help keep plot holes to a minimum in first draft, etc.  (I really like using “etc” in this post, eh?)  So we need to develop a good editorial eye to keep consistent within each project.

That’s all.  It was just really bugging me that this had happened on network television.  Sigh.

Oh, and please vote in the poll.  (See sidebar.)  Any “other votes” please use the comments for this post to explain.  Footloose and Fancy-free would be a chance for me to just talk about whatever.  Poetry would be topics related to the craft of poetry (a lot of which I’ve found helpful in fiction writing).  Just let me know as I’m still struggling with this one.  Thanks.

My Own Personal Hades, or Outlining — July 28, 2009

My Own Personal Hades, or Outlining

Now begins the part of this process that is making me depressed and making my brain hurt. I’m outlining. Hopefully I’ll get through the entire Sunstone outline, all 3 or 4 books (whichever I decide upon though 3 is appealing more at the moment), but it’s unlikely. I just need to get through the outline for book 1 by the end of the day Friday.

Here’s where I’ve put myself into depression mode: I’m outlining in detail what I’ve already written, scene by scene (sort of) and I really get it affirmed to me more and more that I need to just basically cut 6 of the 9 or 10 chapters I’ve written so far. I really should just start over from scratch on Saturday when I kick into 2,000 words a day mode, but I can’t do it. I want to get this book written, no matter how crappy and horrible it is, and starting over makes me feel like I won’t get it done in the month of August like I’ve allotted. (I’ve been working on this for 7 or 8 years now and I’d like to feel some sort of sense of accomplishment.)

Meantime, I sit here outlining, still not really knowing where my plot is going. I’m outlining it in this way:


Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Scene by scene, chapter by chapter. It’s going to get really rough when I get into the portions I haven’t written yet.

Reading all of The Plot Thickens really drives home that I do need to start in a different spot and get rid of 80,000 words (maybe that’s an exaggeration). But there are so many characters I love in those first six chapters and there are so many little things that I think I meant to be important, little subplots that will be crucial in later volumes, etc., that I’m struggling right not to figure out where they’ll fit in should I eliminate all that pretext, that isn’t really pretext but important plot setup that should be covered.

Now to go and make sense of al my Sunstone notes that I’ve garnered over the years and try to nail down the rest of my plot and finish the outline. New deadline for outlining: TODAY.

There are some other things that I have to write that are precursor to what I’ll be writing in the novel, but will show up in the novel.

Time is slowly dripping away from me. I feel like the clocks in Dali’s The Persistence of Memory.