Thursday, February 24, 2011


After my last post, Marc asked if I outline my stories before I begin. He pointed out that it doesn't stifle creativity and it could help with my plot problems and save me a lot of time. I totally agree. I was going to respond in the comments, but realized I had a bit much to say on this.

First off, I love to outline. I love putting the pieces of the story together and spending all the creative daydreaming time with the novel before I start. It gets me really excited about the project, building the type of drive that's necessary to work on a novel for the next year or so.

I've outlined every novel I've written except the first one. The first one ballooned; 1,300 pages and it rambles, doesn't carry a theme, and doesn't have a true, strong plot to go with the characters I love. I learned from that one that I need the structure of an outline to stay on track.

The problem is this: Even outlining, I don't see all the problems in advance. I imagine there's a certain amount of practice in this. Trial and error. Or maybe I just need the whap-me-upside-the-head lessons before outlining can become a truly efficient process for me.

The first novel I outlined didn't have a third act, something I didn't see until a friend pointed it out to me in the fifth or so round of edits. Which meant that the second book that I'd already "finished" also didn't have a third act. Or maybe it doesn't have a second act. I smooshed them both together in a lackluster climax kind of way.

That's a tough lesson to learn with two novels to fix. I spent several months fixing the first, and the second (which is the second in that series) waits until the first is sold.

So when I sat down to plot out Faye, I was very careful to make sure it had a third act. I forced that third act in there with a crowbar, conveniently ignoring the fact that while Faye's motivations stay true throughout the novel, the secondary characters' motivations, and even parts of the world logic, didn't work in the third act.

Yeah, that was another tough lesson, one that's going to take me months to fix. But just like learning about my blind spot when it comes to the third act, I now know to take more time with character motivations in the outline stage. I get so excited to write the novel when I'm outlining that I often start writing before I'm completely done, reasoning that "it'll all just fall into place when I get there." Nope. Nah-uh. Not next time.

There's a few other smaller problems I've had along the way that I'm keeping in mind for the next novel. For instance, while it's easy for me to storyboard plot points, it's harder for me to see in an outline the pacing of the protagonist's inner conflict. It's one of those elements I hope to be able to include on future outlines, but every character so far has surprised me in this regard. (I know these characters are all pieces of me, parts of my imagination, and not people who are in my head talking to me, but when it comes to inner conflict and how it manifests in various scenes, I'm often completely surprised—a scene I planned to have a character mad in, they're apologetic, or sad, or defensive when they should be offensive, and it works; time and again, my characters have taken the reins of emotional scenes and proved that my outlined thoughts were no longer relevant to their inner conflict.)

So when it comes to outlining, I'm 100 percent on board...even if I'm baffled by the enormous problems I still fail to see in my outlines until I've written past them.

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