Outlines and Outlining

I’ve started a lot of projects in the past two years. I’ve lost count, but it has to be somewhere around 14 or 15 unique, fresh novels. Not counting the proofreading I want (wanted) to do over the same amount of time. And it isn’t like I lost interest, or hope, on the novels; they simply dissolved into the background of work, life, and whatever new dream I have.

Tonight I finished an outline, where I mark every major book event down like a little seedling, with plans to watch the garden grow. I haven’t used an outline in my novel-writing since high school when I mapped a seven-book series out, turn by turn, and then (truly) lost interest somewhere around book three. My weakness then? No definable conflict/bad guy. “An army of evil” only goes so far (even for high fantasy). So the beautiful writing I so poured my soul into gathers dust like a Lovecraftian ruin in the middle-east.

Back to outlining. It’s a brilliant idea. Why? Ideas slip in and out so hard and fast, nowadays (due mostly to diabetes, partially to aspartame, recovering terror from being poor, and a job that keeps me on my mental toes), I can’t keep up. I want this stuff to be mapped out, and able to be finished, but the problem always seems to be “now where did I leave off?” or “It’s been two months. I don’t remember where I’m going and where I’ve been.” Blah. I’m three chapters away from finishing (re-finishing. For the ninth time.) Of Salt and Wine, I Come, and look at it in disbelief because I let it linger just a tad too long in the “percolating” pile.

Oh how the darkness lingers. Anyways, my outline style is written in 5 acts, surprisingly enough. All Shakespearean and shit, I guess. I begin with a major conflict, resolve it while asking more important questions, then resolve the important questions by asking even more important ones. One Major Question Per Act. Then I identify each “Act” by a single word, a word that embodies the most distilled emotion/action of the characters in the Act. Act 1 is: Investment. Act 2 is: Rapture. (this book comes with a very Biblical feel, even though it’s scifi)

Writing this way ensures several things for me. 1: I keep myself from writing holes and pitfalls. Nothing more dissuading than writing six chapters on a thing only to realize that, after all the work, it really wasn’t that important to the plot: redo? Maybe tomorrow. But tomorrow becomes next year in a hurry.  2: I can convert the novel to a movie script very easily if I keep the outline as a separate file. This might seem mighty presumptuous of me, but the wife has told me, over and over again, I should try writing my books as scripts for movies. It’s a different medium, with a different audience, and different people to impress, but I’m all for testing the waters. 3: if I walk away from the MS, I’ll have my roadmap crisply in place and ready to go. Changing the outline after returning from a hiatus is much easier than changing four chapters due to a change of heart/interest. 4: If I forget my direction, no matter where I am, I can look it up and get back on track. This works best while also researching, so I can (as is this instance) describe important scenery, time periods, and post links to wikipedia, external research, etc. that’s relevant to the story.

My new project is writing outlines for all my unfinished projects. Let’s see how long this little endeavor lasts, shall we?

I recommend to everyone to try the outlining method. However you prefer, do it: be it character sheets, or political timelines, or even a list of all the things your MC carries, map it out. And if you have to, literally draw a map. I can’t say how many times a fantasy novel kept its steam simply because I had something on the wall in front of me to look at, and remind me of my dream.

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