Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Outlining...In Detail

I'm a definite plotter.  Or outliner, which is the term I most prefer.  Because that's exactly what I do.  I detail.  Many of you may even nod your heads and say, "Yeah, I outline, too." But I'm not talking about your basic outline.  That's only a starting point for me.  My outlines usually range between 50 and 130 pages.  And from what I've gathered by the countless "Oh, wow!" reactions I've received, I'm assuming most writers don't outline to the same degree. 

Thing is, it works for me. 

All writers write and revise differently.  Why wouldn't they outline differently, as well?  Makes sense, right?  So I'm going to share the way I outline in detail and maybe it'll work for you, too.  If it doesn't, then no harm done.

Okay, first things first.

Why I started outlining this way:
Pantsing was never really an option for me, though I tried it.  I needed structure and hated going back to add or change something. Also, it's too easy to back yourself in a corner.  For me, pantsing is like driving around aimlessly, hoping you don't turn onto an unmarked dead-end street.  I like efficiency and it was a waste of my time. (Note:  I know this method works well for some of you, so no need to bother with the hate mail. *grin*)

I tried the notecard  method, but my son (who was two years old at that time) found them, color-coded them with crayon scribbles, and rearranged them in his own order.  It's hard to leave something out handy when you have little ones around that get into your stuff.

The story board method flat-out overwhelmed me.  It was downright daunting to see it all spread out in front of me and led to a lot of confusion.

Short outlines were just that.  Short.  I had a hard time imagining the story in my head because I couldn't picture the characters, their voices, the scenes, the setting, etc...

Here's an edited example of my outline from RULES OF PROTECTION:

Chapter 1
Location : Chicago, Illinois
Name of bar : The Jungle Room
Emily Foster, age 28, it's her b-day, party girl
She's sitting with friend, Gina, in bar
- A man is eyeing Emily
- Her friend encourages her to take him for a test drive
- Emily refuses and heads to the bathroom
- Scumbag catches up to her and hits on her
          *offers to buy her a drink
          *he won't take no for an answer
          *she becomes frustrated
- She hides in the bathroom, waiting for him to leave
         *washes hands twice
         *sings to herself
- Coast is clear - makes a run for her friend
- She sees him at bar and ducks back into hallway
- A man stops to talk to her
Jake Ward (undercover FBI Agent, though she doesn't know it)
          *Brain fog - he causes it
          *She has trouble with coherent thoughts
- He says he'll walk her back to table when he comes out of bathroom
- She attracted to him and waits for him
          *contemplates both mens' flirty approaches
          *She starts to feel duped by Jake's "damsel in distress" play
          *Plans to give him a piece of her mind when he comes back
- Scumbag shows back up first.
- He calls her "Sweet thang" and licks his lips while eye-balling her
- When Jake returns, he says nothing, but walks up and kisses her senseless.


That's just a snippet, but it's enough to show you how I do it.  My outline is safely stored in a Word file on my computer, which makes it easier to copy and paste when moving things around.  I also tend to write dialogue as I outline, if something pops into my head while visualizing the scene.  I bold the main points of the scene and put my chapter headings in blue so they stand out easily to me.  And once I actually finish the outline and start writing, I keep the pages side by side in order to stay on track. The more detailed my outline is, the faster I write because it's essentially a mini-version of my book.

Of course, this is an edited version of my outline and not the actual outline.  My outlines usually contain weird notes to myself and actual dialogue I've used in my story (sorry, but I edited both out).  My actual outlines are put together in a way that only I would understand them, and I didn't want to confuse you.  Sometimes, there might be one or two words to remind me to describe something a certain way, such as "brain fog" or a description of the setting that I want to highlight, such as "dark plank floors."

I have the memory of a goldfish, so instead of swimming circles in a bowl trying to remember how I pictured the scene, I write it down while the image is fresh in my mind.  But my outline changes as I write. Some scenes get deleted, or sometimes things get added. If I need to remember to mention something in a later chapter, then I head to that chapter on my outline and make a note. It keeps me from forgetting that important tidbit of information that should've landed there.

Now, I'm not saying there's a right way or a wrong way to outline, but this is basically how I do it.  It's a bunch of notes to myself about where I want each scene to go.  And most times, at a glance, I can see which scenes haven't been thought-out and need more work.  Chances are, you have a system that works great for you, too.  But if not, maybe this post will help!

Either way, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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