Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How I Outline, Guest Post #4: NCB

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.
Please extend a welcome to NCB, a fellow AQCer and writer, to the blog today. Here's his thoughts on outlining:

On Outlining and Planning

My process of outlining takes place mostly in two distinct "waves." The first comes before I write a word of the novel. I'll know how I'm going to begin the book (typically around the first 10k-15k words) and I'll know some specific details of the ending stretch (again, roughly 10k-15k words), but I'll have only a vague sense of what's going to go on in the middle. When I do get to the middle section, I'll start free writing, but I can't help myself from planning where the story will go three to four chapters down the road.

During this unplanned middle, a lot of unexpected things happen. I'm not going to lie; some of these unexpected things are terrible beyond words. I've lost days of writing either trying to find something for a character to do or trying to kill them off, only to realize by draft's end that the character never really belonged in the book in the first place. but even if I end up with five terrible parts f the first draft, if the brief "free write" process gets me two or three wonderful scenes or story arcs, the free writing part has done its job. Regardless of how much planning I may do, the act of actually writing always brings out the most creativity for me.

After completing the first draft and setting it aside for a month or two, I go through the book chapter by chapter and make notes on what specifically is happening in the first draft, and what needs to happen in subsequent drafts. Then comes a detailed, complete outline for the second draft. This is the point where useless characters are chopped or combined, fuzzy details are made more specific, and pacing issues are addressed. Briefly summarizing each chapter after finishing the second draft is an easy way of noticing glaring pacing flaws, such as "I have 15 chapters in a row that are more 'low key,' followed by 15 chapters that never let up."

During this second draft outline, most supporting characters undergo a severe overhaul. It's difficult for me to get a feel for a character (especially a minor one) before I've written about them, which causes my first drafts to have plenty of flat characters with thin personalities and unclear motivations. After making it through the first draft, it's significantly easier to see the characters in a more complete way, and that's where the fun quirks and pet peeves come out for me.

After these two main "waves," pretty much all of the major planning is done. If something else comes out that wasn't expected in the second draft, and it requires more than a few extra paragraphs to set up, I'll plan out the scenes necessary for it before starting draft three. By this point I know the ins and outs of my story like the back of my  hand though, so further explicit planning isn't necessary.

Great process, NCB. Thank you for sharing with us.

For more posts on outlining see:
Outlining: The Simple Version
Jumping the Tracks
How I Outline, Guest Post #1: Darke Conteur
How I Outline, Guest Post #2: Derrick Camardo
How I Outline, Guest Post #3: Ian Isaro

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


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What's Your Point Of View?

The 4 Points of View:
1) First Person: The narrative is related by one of the characters, not necessarily the main one.
2) Second Person: The writer is speaking directly to his audience as if having a conversation. Not really popular or recommended for fiction.
3) Third Person, close: The narrative is in third person, but follows one character's point of view. If using multiple POV characters, only one person at a time.
4) Third Person, omniscient: The narrative in third person, switching from one character to the next, the writer has a god-like perspective over the whole story.

My most comfortable and natural point of view to write in is #4. My favorite books are written in this point of view, and I love having the big perspective when I write. It's easy for me to transition between character heads and locations.

I can also easily write in first person, but I don't enjoy the limited perspective much. I also feel that books written in first person perspective tend to be on the anorexic side, leaving out the bigger picture and thus some reader satisfaction. I'm not saying I won't read a book done in first person because I do read them. They are usually my light, fluff reads, no matter how high-concept they might be.

So what is the point of my opinion? That I decided to convert my natural flow in third person omniscient to the more challenging third person close in one of my books. It sounds fairly simple to execute, but it hasn't been. The way things are worded, diving deeper into each character's psyche, sectioning things off to keep different character pov's straight, and the added bulk such changes make, have proved more daunting for me than I initially thought.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say third person close has been the most difficult point of view to write well. I do like getting to know the characters more intimately. I like the challenge of keeping straight who knows what, and weaving threads. I do not like the inflated word count for the sake of a decent plot. I have multiple character points of view, necessary to tell the story, and getting that close to each one of them requires more space on the page to do it right, compared to head jumping. It's been very tempting to switch back, trimming the word count by half, and going against the current trend to avoid the omniscient pov. However, I'm too invested in what I've developed and what that has caused to emerge in the story to begin all over again.

So what have I learned from this writing trench? I recommend first person pov for shorter projects and smaller timetables. I recommend third person close for bigger books, only if you can keep it to one or two point of view characters. And I highly recommend third person omniscient for the largest plots, especially if they come with multiple point of view characters. It takes out a lot of the bloat. Even if it's not the point of view du jour, it can be done well. I'm still breaking my own recommendations with this one book, and none of you have to take these as rules, but if you want less heartache and headache from revision, this is what I've learned after many years of trial and error.

How about you? What is your most natural point of view to write in? If you've tried more than one point of view, what have you learned from the experience?

Edit: Here's a really good blogpost I found on the same subject. Head hopping vs. multiple povs vs. single pov. Go with what you feel most comfortable with and do it well.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How I Outline, Guest Post #3: Ian Isaro

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.

Welcome back to Ian Isaro, author of the Sorcery and Scholarships series and fellow AQCer. Here is Ian's method to outlining in his own words:

I'm pretty far on the outliner side of the continuum. I think of my process as having two outlines, but now that I consider it there's actually more stages than that.

Books gradually coalesce out of my general creative process. This step shouldn't be ignored, because I rarely write anything down until I have quite a few ideas. When I feel like I have most of the book more or less clear I put things down in categories, which quickly reveals what I'm lacking. Maybe there's no balance in my POV characters, maybe I just have plot ideas and not enough substance, or maybe I've neglected someone's personal arc.

Once I have what feels like a balanced set of ideas, I lay out the plot. Sometimes there's a series of events that go in an obvious sequence, which forms a narrative spine. Otherwise, I only have a plot in stages. A generic example: mystery is introduced, characters investigate based on wrong assumption, pivotal scene gets them on the right track, major plot twist, climax, ending.

I'd then place all my ideas in one of those six segments. Most ideas are obviously attached to one, so the plot of the story becomes clear. Some could go anywhere: say the villain has an interesting subordinate, and I decide to put the first conflict with him in the investigation section because that part isn't as exciting. Others are like subplots: if characters have a book-long conflict, I'll put notes to start it in the first segment, then have follow-up scenes where talking would be appropriate.

Things tend to lump together during this stage. Maybe an action sequence lacks emotional weight, so one character's personal crisis should happen at the same time. Maybe I realize that one character disappears for a while, so I give a subplot to him/her so it can happen simultaneously instead of two events back to back. That kind of thing.

Once I finish the outline, I usually have a vision of the whole story in my head. In a sense it's "written" for me; I might not know some of the details, but the plot is clear and I have some scenes thought out almost word for word. Typically the outline is more detailed at the beginning of the plot and grows less so toward the end. I start writing and do a second outline for upcoming segments as I decide how to do things.

Unless I've made a large mistake, I only stretch/compress things while writing. Maybe the way I write, it's obvious the characters would realize their false assumption early and that part has to speed up. Sometimes a character or element doesn't fit in a scene and I place it somewhere later. But other than these things, I basically write straight through to the end.

For series that I can't write all at once, there are a few additional outlining issues. I have a grand series outline that covers what broad issues each book will address as well as major character arcs and developments. Until books are written, elements can shuffle around like they do in the plot of any given book.

Once I've written one, however, I consider it "canon" and build other outlines from there. If I foreshadow something, I make sure I have a clear idea what exactly I intend (and that subplot chain throughout all the future books solidifies). I also keep a list of promises made to the reader and which pieces of worldbuilding I've referenced to influence what new elements I should introduce in the future.

With The Dying War, I have the additional complication of too many side characters for any one given book. I try to have each book choose a few characters as strongly secondary and I note this so that no one disappears for several books at a time. Ideally that coincides with a reason for the character to be absent, but I could improve on character management overall. This is one of the areas where my series-long outlines are lacking, because it's difficult to know which secondary characters will become strongest in the writing.

I have an additional piece of advice for series writers: watch the complexity. In my series, I didn't want any major force to seem thrown in at random or invented just for a later book, but because of that I went overboard with foreshadowing. The first novel needs to be a strong hook, fulfilling enough of its promises that readers want to continue. Every reader's opinion on this will vary, but in general be careful not to overshoot. Things that look neatly intricate in outline will appear messier in the reading.

Thank you, Ian. You've made some excellent points.

For more posts on outlining see:
Outlining: The Simple Version
Jumping the Tracks
How I Outline, Guest Post #1: Darke Conteur
How I Outline, Guest Post #2: Derrick Camardo

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

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Where's Today's Post?

First off, thank you if you visited the blog expecting the usual Tuesday post. Life got in the way this week. Our internet provider was bought-out a few months back and the new company has been sneakily raising rates, adding extra charges, and conflicting information on when payments were due so they could charge late fees. Needless to say, we're changing providers. So the blog will be back up and running as usual next week.