My Outlining Process

When I outline, I like to do it by hand. I scribble out some key plot points that chain together to make the overall plot. Sometimes the points are simple, one liners. Sometimes I’ll go a little more in-depth and scribble out a paragraph or so.

I have this very nice leather-bound journal outline_journalmy wife got for me when I earned my bachelors of science in computer information systems. I’ve used this journal for outlining my longer stories and all of my novels. I’ve tried to write a few short stories in there, but never did finish them in the book. I eventually transcribed my scribbles and put them into electronic format and finished the story from there.

I only write on the right-hand pages. This leaves the left-hand side blank for future expansion on ideas.

Once I have the plot-points put together, I read through them a few times. With each pass, I add in more details to some plot points, scenes, characters or ideas on the left-hand side.

My plot points tend to read something like this:

  • Open w/ battle scene w/ L o front lines fighting the Pellorites. Show her under the command of a captain calling out for men to be healed. Include sight, sound, smells and physical/emotional feelings. L will be confident of her skills.
  • Drive back Pellorite and fall back to camp to heal more men w/ help of her fellow Warmaidens. L sees dead men and is reminded of her father. Sadness & regret.
  • Catch sight of G across camp. The Monk is heading to L in beeline.
  • G pulls L aside for a private conversation.
  • G tells L that Dellior has summoned them back to Saberi.
  • …. and so on.

As you can see, some are brief. Some are more detailed. I’ve had some plot points almost take an entire page. I’ve had some take less than a single line.

I’ve gotten better at outlining than when I first started. My first “outline” was four pages long. That’s it. Four pages turned into 104,000 words in my first novel. My second outline was much more in-depth and used more of the left-hand side of the pages as well. The second outline landed at 33 pages, but still only led to to another 105,000 words. As you can see, the length of the outline didn’t really determine the length of the book. I just had more details in the second outline. It made writing the book much easier for me when I got down to the prose portion.

After I have the entire story down in a manner I’m happy with, I turn to my laptop. I fire up Scrivener, start up a blank novel, and inject tons of blank scenes into the file. Once I have a good working “blank slate,” I enter the plot points into the Document Notes section of the Inspector area. I move from scene-to-scene as I think it’ll flow well in scene breaks or logical “stopping” points in the story. I also title the scenes in the left-hand side (Binder) by naming the scenes instead of leaving them as “Untitled.”

When done with this process, I read through my scenes in Scrivener and try to find some good break-points for chapter endings. I add a ton of folders (chapters) to the document. I generally start with about 20 chapter folders. I’ll name them “Chapter 1,” “Chapter 2,” and so on. Then I drag and drop the grouped scenes into the chapters. Sometimes, I have to delete some empty chapters. Sometimes, I have to add a few more. It all depends on the project.

*phew* Lots of work, right? Well, it’s worth it for me. All of this foundational work takes me a few days to get done. The ideas for the plot points flow from my brain, through my pen and into paper quite well. Transferring it to Scrivener and organizing it the way my brain thinks keeps me from getting distracted or thrown off track because I didn’t plan something properly.

Once I get all of this put together, I’m now free (free I tell you!) to just write the prose. I refer to the Document Notes area to make sure I’m still on track.

If I stray from the outline, I have some choices. I can either go back and “fix” the prose, or I can adjust the outline. It really depends on what I feel will make a stronger story. I once killed a character (no, I’m not telling you which one) that I had planned to use later in the novel. The character’s death was so profound and powerful, I had no choice but to adjust the outline to match what had happened.

All of the above works for me. Will it work for you? *shrug* Maybe, maybe not. You gotta find your own methods and run with them. Just don’t be afraid to try something new.

PS: If you recognize the journal, you’re very good! It’s the bottom book in the stack from the books my wife photographed for the cover of An Uncommon Collection.

The Next Venture

I’m about to launch into outlining the third book in the Laurin trilogy. However, neither of the first two books are anywhere near getting published. I have no agent. I have no editor. I don’t have any “hot leads” on either front for Laurin’s story.

I’ve been told that writing a sequel to an unsold book is borderline foolishness. I can see the merit in that statement. It’s pretty simple. Here’s why:

If book #1 doesn’t get published, then what’s the point of writing book #2? It’s obviously not going to be published either. Heck, I’m getting ready to launch into book #3 in the trilogy. Here’s why:

It’s the story that’s in my heart right now. I have to tell it. I have to finish Laurin’s tale. It’s just what I need to do right now. Yeah, I realize I may end up with a “trunk trilogy,” but I’m perfectly fine with that. Sure, I want things to get published, and I want readers to enjoy Laurin’s stories as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. If I do end up with a trunk trilogy, I’ll live with it. I’ll find another story to tell and tell it!

There’s another reason I’m not too concerned with a trunk trilogy. Each book I write is stronger and better than the last. I’m improving as a writer. I’m not making the same mistakes I made in previous writings (though, I may be making new mistakes!), and with each step forward in my writing craft, I’m that much closer to writing something an agent/editor/publisher will love.

If it takes me a trilogy to get good enough at the craft and art of writing, so be it. If it takes me twenty books to get good enough, so be it. I’ll trunk what I have to just to keep moving forward and getting ahead in the craft.

So….. having said all of that, I need to pull out the beautiful leather journal my wife bought me as a graduation present when I heard my bachelor of science degree. It’s what I use to scribble thoughts and ideas in. I’ll talk more about my outlining process at a later date. I’m a bit weird in it…. or maybe not. I’ll let you be the judge once I write that post.

Oh. One other detail. The third book is titled, “Warmother,” which follows “Warmistress” and “Warmaiden.”