Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Outlining a Novel

Hi, guys!

Sorry I've been strangely absent so far this week. Yesterday I was attacked by killer clam sauce (I found out I was allergic to shellfish yet neglected to realize that Chinese food = clam sauce = death) and was too high on benedryl to type coherently.

Yet I have recovered, and hope to shed some light on the topic of Outlining today.

People fear the Outline, but are drawn to its elusive promises of "being better organized."

As an outliner, I'm here to tell you, it's not just a myth. It really helps (me, that is).

Here's how I do it:

1) I always start with the basic idea, whatever it is, and then think "How will this novel end?" It always starts with the end. How can you get where you're going if you don't know where you want to go?

Let's say my idea is about Flying Zombies. Where's the story there? Flying zombies change their lives for love and become lawyers with creepy skeletal wings. Good stuff!

2) Now that I've got my ending, I start mulling over whose story this is. I think about characters: who they are they and why are they going to end up the way that they are?
I like to write down a list of facts about the characters so I can keep them straight as I go along.

Ned was a nerdy high school student on his way to Harvard when he was bitten by a monkey and became Undead. Bummer. Ned has brown hair, is 6'3", and likes water polo.

3) Now that I know a little about my characters, I have to figure out how they get from the start to the end that I've created. This is the fun part for me, because I get to figure out how to toture my characters and put in lots of delicous conflict.

Ned meets Stacy while trying to bite her on the face in the subway.

She sues him, and he goes to jail where he is picked on for being Undead.

The government experiments on him while he's there, giving him skeleton wings.

He finds his way out, only to shamble into Stacy again in a bakery.

He wants revenge.

They fight.

They fall in love.

She gets hit by a bus.

He goes to law school to honor her memory.

He is discriminated against, since he's Undead, and devours the dean.

He passes the bar with "flying" colors.

The end.

4) Chill out. Yes, the last and most overlooked step to outlining is TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT. It's just a place to start. Everything is negotiable! Like Captain Barbosa said, they're more like "guidelines" than rules.

If you think of the Outline as a way to get started and keep yourself on track, it won't drag you down. Remember that you can cross out and add all you want along the way.

Zombie in prison not working for you? BAM! Ned the Zombie is kidnapped by neo-nazis instead.

Easy as that.

I have always seen an outline as a way for me to write from the hip but not get completely lost as I go.

So what do you think? Are you an outliner? Do you write solely from the hip?

I'd love to hear your ideas and tips!


ElanaJ said...

Holy cow, cool outline! Um, I write from the hip. In fact, I usually entangle myself with so many "hip" moments that I have to go back and delete a ton and start over. This usually happens after a certain amount of curing time after I have painted myself into a corner in the MS.

But this was a great post!

Abby said...

I try to outline, but I haven't been able to trick my brain into thinking it's not work. And if it feels like work, chances are good I'll find something else to do instead--like writing or blogging or QT forum. :) I guess I always have a rough idea in my head of what's going to happen, so technically that's an outline. But actually sitting down and mapping out details? That's not going to happen.

Rebecca Knight said...

Thanks, Elana :)! I wish I could write from the hip without being totally lost. I get lost in shopping malls, so there you go.

Abby, that's cool that you have a Brain Outline! It's the same thing, only easier to change. I like it ;).

Danyelle said...

Outlining doesn't work for me. I've wanted to do it for the very reasons you stated, but it just doesn't work out. :( Meh. But I think I've figured out how my Muse works, and that's what's important. :)

*is envious of outliners*