Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Free-for-All: Speak to Me of Outlining

Current Project: NMMNG
Status: Outlining (what else?)

Our Chapter's November Online Workshop is on the "W Plot" method of outlining (this looks like a fabulous offering!). And since Debbie, Piper, and I (and several others, I think) are all in the midst of outlining and plotting, I thought it might be a timely topic to discuss favorite methods, systems, and tricks for outlining. I'm interested in books you've read, workshops you've attended, and tricks you've learned. What works for you? What doesn't? What steps do you go through before you start drafting that first chapter? After you draft the first couple of chapters?


Bethany Gabbert said...

Friday Free-for-All Post Up! Come play!

Paty Jager said...

Ummm... I'm a poor person to comment on this. No outline, barely a synopsis(okay no synopsis) and I start writing.

I have character descriptions and a beginning scene, a couple middle scenes, and an ending scene in my head when I start writing.

I look forward to what others have to say...

Bethany Gabbert said...


What do you do for character descriptions? Is there a worksheet you use? Do a write a bio? I'm fascinated by the processes of others.

For my first book, I did absolutely no outlining, and it was fun, but also kind of nerve-wrecking b/c I was afraid of writing myself into a corner. For my second book, I did several rough outlines, did story magic, and away I went, adding to the outlines as I went. For the third, I did a really long outline, and that helped a lot, but I think it wasn't as effective as it could have been b/c I missed a lot of conflict, motivation, and pacing things that an outline should help avoid. For this project, I've been spending an enormous amount of time just cogitating and scheming and doing some of the Mary Buckham worksheets, and I'm not sure how much I want to do before I start drafting.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

I'm one of those who never used to plot much. Last night my CP and I were discussing my WIP and where it's all going and I said to her, "I need a flow chart to keep all this straight!" She laughed because that is SO out of character for me. But I'm finding with this series, which has so many threads and characters and plots that build from one to the next, some kind of plotting/chart is necessary.

I've gotten to the point where I HAVE to write out a synopsis ahead of time, not only because I'm now selling on proposal, but because even with books already sold (and not written) my editor wants to know what I have planned. With the wip, I wrote out a synopsis and I've stuck pretty close to it (as far as the main story goes). Of course, things always pop up, but that's what I consider "fun" in writing.

As for my process? I don't do character charts or lists. I mull over characters in my head for months before writing - getting to know them, figuring out what they want and who they are. When I sit down to write that part is fairly clear to me. I'll start with the inciting incident and write the first three chapters, then write the synopsis from there. Then I move on and work on the rest of the book.

Fun topic, Bethany!

Genene Valleau said...

LOL, Bethany! Have I got info for you!

Unfortunately (or fortunately if you're tired of me talk about worksheets, etc.) I've been running all day and have to dash out the door again for more running.

But this evening, I will share all...(teehee)

Paty Jager said...

Bethany, I do a character sheet by typing the name then the physical things about the character then I start typing their background, add in their strengths and flaws and how they relate to the other characters.
And I've been known to throw in a brief scene that comes to me as I'm doing all of this. This is all stuff I do after the characters have already been in residence in my head for a while.

I do a conflict chart from story magic for each story. I know I am eventually going to have to write up synopsis but for now, I can spend that time on writing the story.

Genene Valleau said...

I'm finally back at my computer and, as promised/warned, have info to share on outlining and plotting. If you're not a plotter, you might want to skip my comments as this will probably make your eyes roll back in your head. :)

My current nine-book series was actually born from one book about a woman and her seven adopted and protective brothers. We had a retreat where Karen did Story Magic when I was plotting her story, so I have that worksheet that really helped with the big picture of the story.

As I wrote that first story, each of the brothers developed as individual characters. So I had notes from her story on basic characteristics of the brothers.

When I decided they all should have their own story, I developed a "12 Steps to Happily-Ever-After" worksheet for each of the brothers. This is a worksheet I developed that is basically a way of brainstorming a character arc. I know where a character is at the beginning of the story and know where they end up, then fill in the steps in between. These worksheets are a mutation of several methods of brainstorming that I attended workshops for and my own way of making sense of a process.

I also did these "12-step" worksheets for heroines who would become their love interests. Some of the love interests came easily as they were minor or secondary characters from other stories I had written. To develop their characteristics, I used bits and pieces of things I had learned from writing workshops. There had to be enough internal and external conflict between the hero and heroine to carry a full-length novel, yet enough in common and enough sizzle between them so they would have solid reasons to resolve their conflict.

Then I did storyboards with photos from magazines and such of what the characters look like, along with pictures of shoes or furniture or whatever caught my eye that represented a part of that characters life. I also did wedding dresses for each of the heroines--something I hadn't done for any previous stories. It was amazing how each heroine chose their own style.

All these storyboards are on a wall in my office as I'm plotting and doing scene sheets for each of the nine books (the ninth book is of the mom and her love interest).

What's intriguing about this series is that the start of one book will overlap with something that happens in another book. This is developing as I'm writing the scene sheets because the lives of the characters are intertwined. Major events in the family affect each member of the family in a different way.

In addition, there's an overarching plot that has to do with the deceased adoptive father that is revealed as each of the stories develops.

Oh, yeah, and I drafted covers for each of the books that's on their storyboards.

I've taken bits and pieces of many different workshops and books, then experimented with them to figure out what works for me. (I can't even remember what the original processes were for most of what I do because it's been mutated so much.)

More than you probably wanted to know, Bethany (and everybody else). But I'm really enjoying this process. Good luck with your outlining. Experiment with it and have fun and don't worry about sticking exactly to someone else's method. Develop what works for you!

Alice Sharpe said...

Genene -- fearing my eyes would pop and my head explode, I nonetheless read everything you said about your outlining process and it made sense. I can totally see how this could work. You explained it brilliantly, and I encourage you to bring a storyboard with all the photos, cover, wedding dress etc. to a meeting so we can see. Your mutated process would also make a wonderful workshop. People love to get ideas that help them tame the beast, especially at first when creating a book can seem like unfurling a sail in a very stiff wind.

As for my process, it kind of resembles Eli's except that I seldom have the luxury of living with characters for several months before they have to live their story. I usually write a first scene, then some backstory, then change the scene, modify the backstory, more backstory, more scene, work on the synopsis, write chapter two, etc... In that way I hobble my way through the first 60 or so pages and into a synopsis that makes pretty good sense although I leave myself lots of wiggle room. Selling on a synopsis simply means that you are showing an editor or agent that you have thought the story out and that that wonderful quirky beginning won't be followed by a wandering mishmash that leaves no one satisfied. I don't have ending scenes firmly in place until I get close to the ending because things change and if I am so positive it's going to end a certain way and am not flexible to the possibility of change, then I feel I might be forcing my characters to fit a now outdated mold.

The characters' looks, likes and quirks develop over time. I am sure the way I write is not time effective -- I have to go back and forth as I figure this stuff out. On the other hand, I seldom have huge rewriting issues to contend with as I do it as I go so that works for me. I don't do character bios all the time although I have done them in a general way and in the future, will have a firmer grasp of where my characters come from before I start writing. I know in a general sense, just not big on specifics and that creates some more back and forth.

It's odd how alike and yet different the creative process can be for people. We all do the same things with more or less the same results in a general way, and yet what excites and amuses one person encumbers another.

I'm interested in knowing if your process is changing, Wavy, as you begin what has to be your third or fourth book, right?