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


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