Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Outlines - Tricky But Neccesary

I'm not dead, just outlining. I reached a point in my story where I really had no idea where to go (and neither did my characters) so we all had to have a chat. I've been working on the outline again so I have more details and now have a chapter by chapter plan.

I usually don't do much outlining, as normally the things I've worked on have been short enough to not need one (at least in my experience). But I have discovered that for long stories I need some sort of map when the long road starts to get covered in the fog of confusion and conflicting ideas. So I sat down and asked myself the following questions:

  • What is the goal of your story? Not the outcome, the goal. (The goal doesn't have to happen, but it has to be there in the background, acting as the cattle prod to keep the main character going.)
  • What will happen if the main character fails, what are the stakes? (After all failure is an option and has to seem like a real risk to the reader)
  • What has to happen for your character to attain their goal?
  • What could happen to hold them back or stop them attaining their goal?
  • What must they sacrifice for their goal?
  • What changes (internally and externally) does the character have to go through before they can attain their goal? Its best to list both good and bad changes in equal measure.
  • What will change for secondary characters, whether they be good or bad?

With these few questions I punched a hole through the big 'ol clueless wall I was facing and can see where this is all headed. It also means I already know some stuff I've written has to go or be changed in big ways but then you don't get a fine delicate omelet without breaking some eggs. Or rather you don't find the gold without having to first trawl through a lot of sludge.

So expect the word count to be going up soon, as I have a course plotted and will follow it through until I hit some other unforeseen obstacle.

If you too find your writing slowing and stagnating into a pile of rotten goo then I recommend trying out the above. Don't hold back, let your imagination run wild and let your characters stretch their limbs a bit. It's amazing what this one simple act of reviewing can do for your story.

1 comment:

  1. I remember my current WiP, as it stood two years ago: it was a fantasy adventure story with two "major plotlines". These were the hero's external conflict against enemies in the fantasy setting, and the hero's internal conflict.

    I knew the story was overwritten, and the word count had to be drastically reduced. I struggled fiercely with this, until one day I examine my outline for the umpteenth time.

    I re-organized the story outline to show how both plotlines progressed, separating the "interanl conflict" and "external conflict". Only then did I notice that I had everything interesting happening with the external conflict! The internal conflict, as I had written it, was a complete waste of time.

    Not surprisingly, armed with this information I was MUCH better equipped to get the word count down to a manageable level.

    You can often get this kind of information from your beta readers --- but not always, and not this time. My outline saved me a tremendous amount of work and aggravation.