Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How I Outline, Guest Post #2: Derrick Camardo

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 want to welcome fellow AQCer and writer, Derrick Camardo to Yesternight's Voyage today. Here's his outlining process:

The Premise

I start with a premise. I have a dozen of these bouncing around in my head at one time. Some are inspired by dreams. Some are brainstormed. Some just pop up in the old cranium. Most of these ideas have no characters or setting or anything that actually make up a cohesive story.

This means I have to do a lot of outlining to even get to a stage where I can begin writing. So I start asking myself these questions:

What kind of person would make this premise happen? What do they want?

How does this premise happen?

Depending on the idea I'm developing, questions may vary, but these are the basics.

The Heart

Once these questions are answered, I outline what I call the "heart" of the story. I've heard other authors refer to the heart of their story as something different than what I call it. So let me explain this. To me, the heart of the story is the epitome of the premise. It is the utter essence of what this idea that had been bouncing around in my head is all about. If I told people what my book was about in one sentence, and they flipped to the heart of my book they should say, "Yep. That's about what I would expect."

The heart could be a scene or a series of scenes. It does not have to be the climax. The heart is formed from the raw premise and the questions of the who, how, and where.

The next two questions form the rest of a vague outline:

What leads to the heart?

Where does the heart lead?

In those two questions, supporting characters, villains, and events are formed. But events can be vague. There are plenty of times where I come to an event that just says, "The good guy wins." So at that moment I have to use what I've written up to that point and how I want to end the book as guides to how the event plays out in detail.

The Voice

After this vague outline forms itself around the heart, I write the first few pages. This is to get the voice. I have found it very difficult to edit in a better voice after an entire manuscript is written. Nowadays, I write the first few pages and bounce that off my critique partners/beta readers just to see if the voice works.

When I get the green light that the voice is working, I write through what is outlined. As I write through the early scenes, I start to make the vague scenes that happen later more and more detailed.

The Hook

Once I have about 5,000 words written with a clear enough outline and an established voice, I write the hook. That's right. The hook as in the hook. Of the query. Which will eventually be sent to agents. After my first two manuscripts, which I really wrote for me, I told myself I wouldn't write a book I couldn't sell easily.

The Timeline

An important thing to address while outlining is timeline. This is especially important while writing contemporary fiction. In fantasy, a lot of times people just leave their old life behind to go on an adventure. With contemporary, that usually isn't the case. People have jobs. They go to school. They have special clubs they belong to.

I initially don't worry about the timeline when I first start writing, but then as I flesh out more of the details, days of the week become important. I will then go back and figure out what chapters happened on what days. Tweaking might be necessary.

For instance, I have a character who attends chess club one day out of the week. When I realized this, I was maybe 16 chapters in. So I had to go back and find what day of the week he was least visible. I picked the least frequented day. Then, wrote him out of the ones he happened to be in, or changed the day, which changed the timeline.

In two of my manuscripts, I had specific events occuring on specific days of the year. In one case, I had the outline detailed enough to write to that end as I went along. In another case, I have the following written in my outline: "At this point, go back and write in the weather." Because I don't know how long it will take me to get to that specific day, I'm instead letting that happen organically and once I get there, I will follow the timeline backwards to figure out what the seasons were during previous chapters.

Thank you, Derrick! You can find out more about him on his website or follow him on Twitter.

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

How I Outline, Guest Post #1: Darke Conteur

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

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