Okay, so getting back to this whole “How I write a book” series.

Lessee, I’ve blogged about the thinking and the “moments” and the research and the imaginary casting call for my characters.  Once I’ve let all that ferment for a while, I usually sit down and outline.

Well, sort of.  This would not be a formal-looking outline, with neat indents and A’s and IV’s and etc.  This would not even be a scene-by-scene outline.  It’s more like, I sit down with my laptop and just spew out all the notes and scenes and dialog that have been coalescing in my brain, in somewhat sequential fashion.  Some bits will be very fleshed out, with whole chunks of inner motivations and dialogue.  In other parts, I’ll have something like “they encounter difficulties”–meaning, the difficulty will be mine when I reach that section and must figure out what the heck should happen.

I begin at the beginning, and I work to the end. The end result is messy and uneven, but this is the stage where it starts to all come together as a story.  And to swipe the motto of one of my soon-to-be publishers, “It’s all about the story.”

I have writer friends who swear by storyboards, post-its, index cards, spreadsheets, and the like.  I’ve tried them all.  I’ve learned this: I am allergic to squares.  Trying to fit a story into a series of boxes…erg, it makes me break out in hives.  To me, a story is linear.  It has a beginning, it has an end, and those two points are connected by a line.  (not a straight line necessarily, but a line nonetheless)  I can’t look at squares and see a story.  That is not to disparage anyone who can, of course.  We’re all different, God bless us.  As shown in the photo above, some people can take squares and make beautiful art with them!

But no squares for me.  I just write out whatever I’ve got into a big long Word file, and I name it something ridiculous and save it.  Then I rarely look at it again.  Just like I almost always leave my shopping list at home after I’ve written it out–but I still remember 90% of what was on it, once I get to the store.  The other 10% was probably stuff I didn’t really need.

How is your holiday shopping list coming?  Do you take a list with you to the store?  Are you allergic to any particular geometric shapes?  Do you see a story as a line, a grid, a string of beads, an Alexander Calder sculpture, other?

9 comments to “Next in the Process: Outlining”

  1. terrio
    · December 16th, 2008 at 7:56 am · Link

    I never realized it before, but I’m like you in that I can’t see a story in a series of post its or index cards or even an outline. I have been known to make notes for the next couple chapters or next four or five scenes. Just rambling paragraphs of ideas and dialogue. But I find if I try to plan too far ahead and in too much detail, it binds me up. Only when I veer from the notes or the plan do things move along.

    I haven’t begun shopping for Christmas. Kiddo will be half way across the country so for me Christmas will happen in January. And that’s fine with me as I can hit all those after Christmas sales. I would like to get the tree up before she leaves. But that has to wait until these to final exams are finished.

    The bottom line is no matter how much or early I prepare, the holiday will come and go and everything will work out. Stressing won’t help anything anyway. That’s what I tell myself anyway. 🙂

  2. kelly krysten
    · December 16th, 2008 at 12:33 pm · Link

    I finished all of my shopping a couple of days ago. Praise the good lord above!!!

    I truly only see the story in my head and then in the novel itself. I can’t bring myself to write outlines of any form. Maybe that’s just laziness…Okay, it’s probably definitely laziness.*g*

  3. Maggie Robinson
    · December 16th, 2008 at 4:05 pm · Link

    Gift cards and certificates for all, except books for the granddaughters. We have to do two Christmases (one this weekend, and then the regular one), so there was no time to be creative or thoughtful. I hate to shop now anyway, and seem to blither even more than usual when faced with material items that no one should need.

    Hm. My writing’s kind of like a slow-moving, shallow river, with odd bends and plenty of rocks. I’m never sure where it will lead me. I CANNOT do much more than jot down a few vague phrases in my little red notebook—no outlines, charts or anything remotely resembling organization. I just float along.

  4. Elyssa Papa
    · December 16th, 2008 at 4:28 pm · Link

    Going along with the water imagery . . . I would say mine is like white-water rafting sans any clues to what the course resembles. I might have a few ideas of what the story entails and some scenes that are very visual, but everything changes once my characters take form on the page. I actually did write a synopsis 20K into the new WIP and started over again. But as soon as I got to the gas station scene, the hero and heroine changed the story completely. So, I’m letting them navigate the rushing rapids instead.

  5. Lady Leigh
    · December 18th, 2008 at 8:27 am · Link

    I tried the story board this time around. It did help. And was a lot of fun- I love brainstorming. But, now that I am actually writing, a lot of it has gone out the window. I’m glad I did it, but it wasn’t the concrete plot creation that I was hoping for. I am beginning to think that I write in layers. Like painters or sculptures. I think this WIP will have a good 5-10 passes of adding and shifting and blending before it is done, if that ever happens. I’m almost done with the first draft- one more scene to go. It is only 50k. Hopefully the other 50k are there somewhere in the fleshing out and deepening!

  6. Evangeline
    · December 20th, 2008 at 8:11 am · Link

    I’ve tried it all: storyboarding, note cards, et al. It doesn’t work for me because I too need to see it all in one place, not sectioned off. I also need “space”–which is why I have dozens of partially-filled notebooks. I start to feel cramped when a notebook begins to fill, and by purchasing a brand new one, my mind feels “clear.” I’ve also gotten into the habit of opening up a RTF and just typing anything that comes to me. That way I don’t have to create clutter by crossing out things, or squeezing words into margins.

  7. Stephie Smith
    · December 22nd, 2008 at 11:23 am · Link

    I’m really enjoying this series. The first time I joined RWA there was an article in the RWR where a bunch of authors were interviewed about their writing process. To this date, it’s my favorite article, maybe because I’m always sure that everyone knows how to do it but me. And then I read an article or blog and see that there are other writers who do it like me.

    I pretty much do what you do. Come up with a hero, figure out who should be his heroine, come up with “moments” and then start at the beginning and write. BUT I do plot out quite a bit of the rest of it so that I know what I’m supposed to write when I get to that part. First I brainstorm and write down all kinds of things that could happen. Then I try to put them into some order. Otherwise, I’m afraid I will end up cutting 30,000 words like I did with my first ms because, although I loved the scenes, they didn’t move the plot along. You gave me a great idea which I should have thought of but didn’t:-), i.e., to think of all the things they might argue about.

    Do you write a rough draft all the way through and then start over and revise/finish each scene? That’s what I’m trying this time because Kresley Cole said it increased her productivity so much to write without trying to make it “right.” Usually I have to go back and fix the previous part up before I start the next one, even though I basically write in layers. The problem with perfecting as I go is that I’m never satisfied and therefore can spend eternity fixing up!

  8. Stephie Smith
    · December 22nd, 2008 at 11:26 am · Link

    I have another question. Didn’t you have to submit a detailed synopsis of your books before you started writing them?

  9. Tessa
    · December 23rd, 2008 at 10:49 am · Link

    Hey everyone!
    Terri, your outlining sounds a lot like mine. Except that I do like to go all the way through the story. Too bad the kiddo will be away at Christmas! But I hope your finals all go/went well!

    Kelly, you are a shopping whiz! And I don’t think it’s laziness if you don’t outline. Some writers don’t, some do. It’s all about what works for you.

    Maggie, your streamlined shopping sounds great. And I love your river analogy! I can’t wait to be swept away on the tumultuous current of a Maggie Robinson book!

    Ely, even though I do these outlines, something big ALWAYS changes mid-stream as I start writing and get to know my characters better. I’ll be blogging about that soon.

    Leigh, I’ve heard that the layering technique works really well for a lot of writers. I think Julie Leto has a great article on her website about it. And when I’m having trouble with a scene, that’s usually what I do – just get the dialogue down first, then go back and layer in the rest.

    Evangeline, i have notebooks too! They’re not organized or anything. Just sometimes when I’m feeling a little stuck, it helps me to actually get out a pen and paper and attack it that way. The result is always a mess of scribbles, but I take it back to the computer and try to transcribe.

    Hey Stephie! Great to see you! It does sound like our processes are very similar. And I agree, I love hearing about how authors do this in very different ways, because it underscores the point that whatever works for you is the right way. 🙂 Alas, I cannot bring myself to write a rough draft all the way through without revising. I do put off revising certain scenes sometimes, because I know they need to change big-time, but I’m not sure how they’ll need to change until I write the end. But I’m a big tinkerer, and I do lose a lot of time that way. Maybe I should try to take Kresley’s advice – um, it seems to be working for her!!

    As for your other question – yes, since I sold I’ve been submitting partials to my editor for each book – the first three chapters plus a detailed synopsis. So I do write synopses for each book, but that comes a bit later. As I’ll blog about next time I do a process blog, once I start actually writing, I usually have a huge breakdown er, breakthrough in the first few chapters, where I realize something I’ve been planning is fundamentally flawed and I have to stop and rethink. But by the time I’ve got the first three chapters written, (so far in my career anyway) I feel pretty confident in writing out a synopsis to the end – of course it sometimes changes in small ways, but the essential plot is there.