Monday, 6 June 2016

My writing process – Step Two – Outlining

All writers have their own process and the second step for me is all about outlining.

An outline is like a winter tree without the complexities of leaves, flowers and nesting birds.
Image care of Annimaas' Bucket 
While many writers will claim to be either 'pantsers' (those who do no outlining, preferring to 'write by the seat of their pants') OR plotters (outliners), I prefer to view the whole pantser Vs plotter thing as a spectrum. Most writers fit somewhere along that spectrum, rather than being a 'pure' pantser, or a 'pure' plotter. I lean toward the plotter end, but things still pop into my stories that I never planned for. While I find it fairly easy to plan my plots, characters are a different matter. They tend to develop as I write, like they have minds of their own, and this means the outline needs to change. So, while outlining is my second step, it's actually a continual part of the process once I start writing the story in full.

The circle marks where I am on the Pantser-Plotter Continuum

Of course the first step in my process, thinking of a story, I posted on this blog quite a while back. Once I have a story firmly in mind, I sit down with the laptop and begin my outline. When I first started writing novels I wrote a pretty simple plan, ten dot points on a scrap of paper that I usually wound up losing. Now, my outlining process is a little more complicated after reading a few books on the subject including Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland, and Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker. I'd recommend both if you're interested in learning more about ways to outline your novel.

So, here's my exact process for outlining:

Step One – A messy brainstorm. I get a blank piece of paper and write words all over it. It ends up looking like I just vomited all the words from my daydreaming onto a page. It ain't pretty. I'll draw some links between words, but I don't like to restrict myself with this part of the process. It doesn't have to be neat and tidy, it just has to get as many of my thoughts about the story down where I can see them on the one page.

Brainstorming – it don't have to look pretty
Step Two – Chapter outlines. In Scrivener I create a folder called 'plan' and start writing a little outline for each chapter. Taking a leaf out of Libbie Hawker's book, I write the goals/motivations for the POV character and the obstacles that prevent them from achieving those goals. I usually write only three to five sentences describing what needs to happen in the chapter. I also use Libbie Hawker's suggested (character centered) plotting headings, such as 'opening scene', 'inciting event' or 'display of flaw' to help me crystallize what each chapter needs to achieve and keep the plot moving forward. I then copy each chapter outline onto the cork board feature in Scrivener.

Some chapter outlines for my current WIP
Step Three – Create a list of dot points. This list is just additional extras that aren't included in the chapter outlines, but things I don't want to forget. It can be a reason for a character motivation, perhaps something from their background. Or a setting I want to include. This list continues to grow as I start writing, and turns into my editing checklist.

I usually spend about a week on outlining. It's one of my favourite parts of the process as it's like writing a short version of your story quickly, and you get to find out what happens. I think it's similar to pantsing, in a way, as things surprise you.

So tell me, where do you sit on the pantser-plotter spectrum?

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