Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How I Outline, Guest Post #1: Dark Conteur

The purpose of this series is to debunk some of the mystery, myth, and frustration behind the concept of outlining. No two people outline the same way and there is no one right method to outlining.

I'm happy to welcome Darke Conteur, author of the Watchtower Series, to Yesternight's Voyage today. Here is her outline process:

When Joyce put out the call for authors to share their writing process, I couldn't resist. I hear about many new writers becoming frustrated at how to structure their story, and I thought I would share some tricks of mine.

First off, I don't adhere to the 'plotter or pantser' mentality. The first draft of a story is just that, a first draft and if I want to wander off and see where an unknown path takes me, that's fine. I'll wander all over the place, but in my opinion, when it comes down to revisions and the final edits, I NEED an outline.

1. Outline the Entire Story: Whether it's in my head, or carefully written down, I need to understand the beginning, middle and ending in order to know where my story is going. Here's where I wander; where I flesh out a plot line and see where it takes me. Even if I don't know anything past the beginning, I just write stuff down. Many times wandering allows me to discover potential plot lines that help form a more coherent storyline. New characters show up or old ones disappear. Even if it doesn't make sense or is even relevant to the main plot, I follow it. There are important details that there might be overlooked and who knows, I might be able to fit it all in. Also, I never throw away or delete anything. Even if it can't go into my books, I need that information.

2. Outline Each Book: Here's where the fun begins and I really need to pay attention. When you're writing a serial, you have to balance several story arcs in the air, so the trick is to figure out what can be mentioned per book, and what can't. Do I reveal something traumatic in a middle chapter in book two, or the beginning of book three? How does it blend in with the rest of the chapters? How does the story flow? Am I going to have enough story to encompass the amount of books I want to write? That last question is the hardest. Don't add fodder to your story just to stretch it out. Backstory and info-dumps are permitted, but I use them sparingly. You don't need several pages of info-dump. Just a few paragraphs will do.

3.Outline Each Chapter: I find this a very important step. What do I want to accomplish with this chapter? What will happen to the characters? What's the dialogue like? Any danger? What about conflict? I need to have a very good understanding of each chapter before I write. During the first draft, I let my imagination wander, but for the final revisions, I set a word goal of roughly 4k, but that's just because I prefer short chapters.

And finally,

4. Outline Each Scene: This is not for everyone, and it's a little quirk I picked up. I'm a visual writer. I picture the scene before I write. When I start a new scene, I take some time and picture the background, how the characters move and where, the dialogue, all of it. It's also known as daydreaming. I've caught myself daydreaming for thirty minutes or more. Heck, for one future series, I took to my bed for four days (after I got Sithboy ready for school), just visualizing scenes! This is handy for action scenes.

So that's it. I'm sorry to say there are no big secrets here. Just a lot of determination. Good luck!

For more posts on outlining see:
Outlining: The Simple Version
Jumping the Tracks

If you would like to share your method or reasons for outlining in a guest blogpost, send an email to joycealton at ymail.com


  1. Glad to see others admitting to what I do myself. I never outline on paper, but have a general direction in my head. And I always daydream each scene before I write it. That may not nail down every detail but it really gets me started so I can write.

  2. Sorry for replying late. I love to daydream. It may have got me in trouble in school, but for writing, it's pure creative energy.

  3. You say daydream, I say visualize. I also don't outline on paper, either, at first. I need to know who the main players are, the basic story arc and conflict. Then I write that first draft. I let it wander as it will. BUT, I keep a record, outlining as I go along, chapter by chapter, scenes within each chapter. That serves well when it comes to revising, rewriting, seeing how/where things fit (or don't.) And as for the daydreaming, I tend to see each scene as if it were a movie playing out in my head. Often, characters show me their natural reactions and how they move on the set, which can be quite different from what I'd planned. I think that staring-into-space time can be some of the best spent writing time. As you say, pure creative energy. Good post, Darke!

  4. Great advice, Darke! One of my professors once said each scene should have a conflict-resolution arc just like the whole story.