Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Outline writing.

I am an outline writer.  When I look back I can see this was the case long before I ever decided to try my hand in the writing/publishing world.  Lists, numbers, and outlines have been at the root of everything from school to my eight years working for Dell.  My test scores when I graduated from high school placed me in the top 98 percentile for math and mechanical reasoning.  When I taught newhire's for Dell, I created weeks of content and had everything planned down to a 15min window.  Regardless I have said it before in my blog and made several comments on other people's blogs that I have a fairly set method to how I write and some rules that I follow. (never edit or revise until the first draft is done)

There is no right way, or wrong way to write.  But writing is a skill first and art second.  Most everyone learns to write from their parents and their first few years of school.  Everyone can write, but not everyone can write.  Writing for others entertainment and asking people to pay for this is totally different.  Now I am not going to go into what writing method is better than another.  I am hardly qualified after four months to even think that I know all there is about creating a good story.  Here is a glimpse.

Many people have seen this picture.  I posted it on my Facebook page on March 22. 2010.  It is the first outline of The Eternal Gateway trilogy.  All 105 chapters of it.  Each card has nothing more than the names of characters and one or two words of what the chapter is about.

Ch1 :Confusion, who's bad, who's good.
Ch2: Fight
Ch3: Intro Hero

Requiem consisted of 35 chapters in note card form.  When it was finished, it had been condensed to 30.  Nothing is set in stone, not even an outline, it is a guide and it's my solution to avoiding writers block.  Jumping to book 2: Guardian, I am currently on chapter 19.  Chapter 19 is special for Guardian because it is about a quarter to a third of the book.  It has been broken down but looking at my original notes, all it says is "Big Ass Fight Scene".  I should finish chapter 19 this week.  I only have three parts left to write.

This picture is the outline for chapter 19.  The yellow paper is the first half that I had already written.  The white cards are what I had yet to flesh out before writing.  Before you roll your eyes and think that this is too much work to do for each chapter, remember that this is a third of the book.  Right now chapter 19 is 17,010 words long with another four or five thousand left to go.  Normally each chapter after it goes from being a note card, gets anywhere from half a page to a couple of pages when fleshed out for outline.

Now back to chapter 19.  The yellow notes were easy, I had two groups to keep track of.  group A doing their thing and group B doing theirs.  It was simple to bounce back and fourth between them to advance the story.  The second half (the white cards) things got much harder.  Both groups were now together and I had to weave them together and have some cool interactions.  Each card at the top says "Train" or "Air".  Then I lined them up and moved them around until I had it in an order that I liked.  Picture how a movie bounces around in a chaotic action sequence.  Heroes ducking for cover; Evil laughing; Starship Enterprise rushing through space; Random explosion; Eviler evil shoots laughing evil; Sad Keanu becomes happy. etc. etc.

It was much easier to outline what I wanted each group to do by themselves and then come back and mix it together like this instead of trying to do it in my head or on the fly writing.

So without making this blog post into its own novel.  I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the madness of my writing method.


  1. Nice post. Even better method, that I would not call a madness writing method, tis very simple. However, I do recognize and admire how much effort you put into shaking writer's block, or at least trying to avoid it. A much better job than me.

    But, again, nice post.

  2. I think this is great. I have all of my chapters on note cards too (well, torn up pieces of paper - I was out of cards), but my scale is way way smaller than yours.

  3. @Ty- Thank you, for me it makes everything easier. At anytime I can sit down and see what I need to work on instead of trying to come up with something.

    @Sarah- lol, I started to cut my note cards in half to take up less room and to make them last longer.

  4. Wow, now that's a serious ouline! I have a pink mini-notebook that I sometimes scrawl down a loose skeleton-outline in, and I flesh out the details of the story as I go along. Mostly I make a brief outline to make sure I don't forget ideas I've come up with, especially if the story is long.

  5. You are extremely methodical, a serious outliner. I have a habit of making chapter outlines; few lines about each chapter. I have heard a lot about the index cards method, but I have never tried it.

  6. Ok, I absolutely LOVE seeing so exactly the methods of other writers, because it really does give me ideas. I'm an outliner too, I may try the notecard thing next time around.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  7. @Ranae- Chapter 19 is huge, I finished it at 19,500 words. It needed some serious foundation to make it all work the way I wanted.

    @Rachna- I'm finding that my outlines are getting more and more detailed as things move on. There is less and less room for characters to wander as things start to wrap up.

    @Sarah- It works for me. I like being able to see the whole story in front of me like that so I can move things around like a storyboard.

  8. You are very organized and therefore efficient. I try, but meticulous organization of your style falls apart in my hands. I am organized in a different, and probably less efficient way. Sadly.

    Tossing It Out

  9. SB: Great pictures, thanks for sharing. It really puts the outlining process into perspective. Also, I think George Lucas would cry when comparing his animatic sequence planning to all your own note cards :)

  10. I did this for my first book and hated every minute of it. I also don't think I would have finished without it. If I could just find a character I cared enough to write about, I'd try to do it again. Sooner or later, I have to stop editing.

  11. @Arlee- I remember my econ101 teacher making the comment about what works for one person, doesn't work for everybody and what works for everybody doesn't mean it will work for you. Everyone has their own methods, but it doesn't hurt to look at what other people are doing.

    @Aron- Hehe, thanks. When I outline and write I can see everything in my head like a movie. When I have bajillions of dollars I'll have a team of artists storyboard for me.

    @Victoria- Learning to stop is hard for a lot of us. At the same time, if you can't move to the next project, your writing will stagnate. Trick is knowing to stop and move on and come back later, or publish and move on.