Saturday, October 28, 2006

Do You Outline?

When people discover that I'm an author -- especially those with an interest in writing -- they usually ask if I use an outline or not and if so what it includes.

Currently the answer is yes…and no.

In my first horror novel, Apparitions, I created an outline for a straightforward suspense / thriller. If you visit the blog for Apparitions you'll see how that little adventure turned out. But to make the story short, it went through two different outlines and then ended with none.

In the next project I started with no outline at all and found that didn't work either. Without some idea of what the next goal was the story kept branching off into areas that it shouldn't or couldn't without bringing the plot to conclusion too quickly. It ended up with an outline and with a few shifts and adjustments went well.

Now I start writing a new project by first using 3" x 5" cards and markers. I then give each character with a Point of View (PoV) an assigned color. After that I write up a card for each major scene that I know must happen for the character(s) to reach their goal(s) and color in the upper left hand corner of the card with the PoV. This color system may seem like extra work at first but let me assure you…when you have a lot of characters and you're working with a novel length project not coding them becomes a major mess. Coding them allows you to see who you're supposed to be in at any given time and allows you to balance out scenes according to which character you want to focus on.

Then for each scene I think of logical 'what ifs' and list them, finally choosing the most appealing idea I came up with and make a card for those.

And so on.

Then I arrange these into piles that generally equate the chapters.

I've found when I set these cards out in front of me while working I can retain focus on the character I'm in and what the ultimate goal of each scene is.

Now…do I stick with this order? No. The order changes and scenes get their PoV re-assigned if I find a different character would have more interesting thoughts on the matter than the original character. Scenes get juggled in sequence, added or deleted. It's all a part of the growing novel and growing characters. As they say about life 'The only constant is change' so it goes with the lives of your characters and your novel.

In fact, if I found a novel went smoothly from my original lay out to end…I'd be concerned.

If you're a writer and wondering which technique will work best for you my advice is to try them all and see. Each writer is different and what works for one might not work for another. Read some books on plotting and making scenes and chose what appeals to you.


About the author -

Raven Bower is the author of the upcoming horror novel, Apparitions (ArcheBooks March 2007)

Apparitions Blog

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Anonymous Markus Niemi said...

As there's more than one way to skin a cat, there's more than one way to write. Now, before the cat people out there skin me alive, let me explain.

I've just about always made an outline of sorts for my writings, mainly because the ones I didn't make one for crashed and burned... badly due to me writing myself into a dead end.

So I started doing outlines, ranging from strictly organized, starchy timelines to scattered notes, and ultimately ended up with a mix of the two - similar to the one that Raven just described.

But I had to travel a bumpy road to find it, just as I had to find my own voice - and I'm still refining both, my way to outline and my voice.

Ultimately, I think, for all the good advices and hints we get from senior writers, we'll have to find out own ways and tricks.

-Markus Niemi

Mon Oct 30, 10:58:00 PM  
Blogger Raven Bower said...

Yeah. I find that each project tends to be different too. There are some plots and characters that so open and 'there' that it's easy to write with a loose plotting reign. Other times they like to be elusive little buggers...

Tue Oct 31, 09:04:00 AM  

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