Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Give me outlines or give me death...
Okay, not really, that's a little extreme but you get the gist ;)
A loyal blog reader has asked me to elaborate a little on my outlining methods for the novels I write. As she hinted at, outliners are getting to be a breed of the past, while seat of the pants writers are multiplying like rabbits. Which is fine, because like I've always said - DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU!
So if you're a happy panster, feel free to hit "next" on your list of blogs to surf today. :) But if you are considering being an outliner and plotter, or think maybe you should become one, or are coming out of the closet about admitting to being one already, then keep reading and hopefully I can answer any questions you guys might have!! hehe.
Here's what I do as a plotting/outlining writer - the entire process from the beginning:
1. The Idea - this can come from something I hear, something I see, something I think, something I read, etc. This is the general gist of my next story. Sometimes its just a location. Other times its a character or a certain spiritual or emotional struggle/goal. Sometimes its a plot. Or a question - "what if this or this and this happened?" It's the spark that ignites my next novel!
2. The Brainstorm - once I get my general idea in my head, I start fleshing it out. I add characters or a setting or a loose plot or whatever is missing from the initial spark. I fill in the big holes and get an idea of the basic story and its characters. This is sometimes written down, sometimes discussed with a fellow author on the phone or sometimes just thought about it my head until I get a firm handle on it.
3. The Synopsis Stage 1 - I jot down my mental notes onto a Word document, committing them to "paper". This is where I just get everything out of my head onto the screen in a way that makes sense but is by no means polished. It just lets me see it to then brainstorm a step further. Eventually this section becomes my polished, final synopsis for my proposal.
4. The Proposal - once I get the basics written down, I start going over the different elements of my proposal which includes a hook, a tagline, a target audience, etc. This might seem backward for some people but for me, this helps me find the meat of my story early on. Once I write these elements into my proposal, I'm more finalized of my plan.
5. The Synopsis Stage 2 - this is where I start writing the synopsis. I take my original Stage 1 notes and start making them into an acceptable synopsis format, which is hard and sometimes more stressful than fun but it lets me get organized, see where in the story thus far I need more conflict, where it's dragging, where a new thread of conflict or intrigue can be added, etc. This is where the real writing takes place. I bring all the previous aspects together and make a solid, presentable story idea. Usually my synopsis are 3-5 pages though for my last Love Inspired proposal, it was somehow 8!
The neat thing about a synopsis for me is that it gives me an outline to go by when I write the full manuscript (hopefully, see Step 7 ::wink::) but it doesn't restrict me to the point that I can't adjust as I write. My editor will purchase the story (again hopefully) based on the synopsis I gave them but there is always room for changes. Major changes would have to be approved first, smaller changes can typically just be absorbed without incident, etc. But for me and my limited writing time available, I don't have the liberty of staring at my screen thinking "uhhhh what happens next?" which is what I would do without a basic outline to follow. I always know what is coming up and what I need to do to get them there. But I still get the freedom of creativity in that each scene isn't a nail-downed, super detailed description. I just see "oh, this convo needs to happen" or "the heroine needs to mull this over" or whatever, and I can still in the moment create the setting for her to do so, etc. I still get surprised by my characters at times or taken aback when something works out even better than I had planned. It's still fun to write, its just more structured than having no set beginning, middle and end points to reach.
6. The Polish - this is when I go back and read the entire proposal and synopsis, start to finish, and convince myself it's ready for my agent to review and submit. I send it to critique partners first to help me eliminate any potential "uh, this would never happen in real ife" type scenarios, etc. :) I read it outloud to make sure it flows naturally and then...the grand finale...(after writing the first three sample chapters)
7. Hit Send. Pray for contract. Wait and wait. Then hopefully, Ta-da! Contract signed, advance deposited, write full manuscript, sell a million copies...oh wait. ;)
That's me. Any questions?