New Outlining Thoughts

one more thingJust last year I was pretty firmly convinced I had an outlining method that was working perfectly. To be honest, it HAD worked pretty well. It saw me through the composition of two new Pathfinder novels that I’m pleased with.

As with any writing method I’ve ever used, though, I’ve discovered that it doesn’t work in every instance. Sometimes what looks good in an outline doesn’t work as well when I set it down on paper.

hulk thinkI’ve been experimenting with a modified version of my outlining method and it seems to be working for me currently. I work from a rough overall outline — I know what happens in the end, of course, and I know the next plot point the characters are going to reach. What I don’t have is every point between the next one and the end already figured out before I start writing (although naturally I have a few ideas).

Rather than working out the entire plot before I start, I work out the villain’s motives and the major arcs (and conclusion) then figure it out plot point to plot point. Every time I get a new section written in prose form I work out the next part by jotting something that’s mid-way between an outline and a rough draft (sometimes slipping into play dialogue format, which still works very well for me). Once that feels right, then I turn it into a draft.

raidersAs an illustration I’d usually turn to Raiders of the Lost Ark, but given that in a recent writer’s talk a third of the audience had never seen the film (I know, right?), I’ll try it with something more recent. Say I had been the writer of the first Avengers movie. While outlining it, I would know that the aliens would come through at the end thanks to Loki’s machinations, and I might know that Coulson was going to die, but I probably wouldn’t know how it would all work out. Suppose that I’d written a draft I was fairly happy with up to the point all our heroes got on the helicarrier. I’d know that the next plot point would be the capture of Loki, so I’d sit down and plot that out, then write it.

hulk computerAssuming I knew immediately which was the right way to go (Loki’s escape) I’d next start outlining toward that scene. Of course if I was feeling inspired about some later moment — say Cap’s brave tactical stand in the streets of New York — I might just write that down. These days I never feel constrained to stay in a scene or a chapter if I’m feeling inspired about something that takes place later. I make sure I get it down.

Anyway, there’s what I’m doing now. Hope you find it of use!

2 Comments on “New Outlining Thoughts

  1. Thanks Howard! I need to go back to this now: “Every time I get a new section written in prose form I work out the next part by jotting something that’s mid-way between an outline and a rough draft (sometimes slipping into play dialogue format, which still works very well for me). Once that feels right, then I turn it into a draft.” I’ve run into problems with a story about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through. Not exactly problems, but unforeseen issues/questions. I did what you mention above for a couple chapters and it works well.

    • You’re welcome, Robert. Glad it worked for you as well! I always hope that these little tips I run across for me will have some benefit for others…

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