Thursday, January 19, 2012

Using Outlines

One valuable lesson I learned is how to actually use an outline. Once I moved on from writing the synopsis, I then got a grip on writing an outline. But knowing how to use it was a different matter, so I sat here, scratching my head.

It's not obvious.

Outlines are never written in stone. Things change, stories evolve, become something different, something unexpected. That's half the fun right there, the “making up fiction” part. I learned that there needs to be a balance between making it up and keeping things organized. In other words, outline and crafting fiction.

For my latest book, I wrote a total of three outlines. Why? Because I was still learning as I went along. The second is a revised version of the first, once the story began changing, so I wrote it all down, including the possible outcomes based on these new events. In retrospect, I could have given the first outline more thought and put most of this stuff in, but again, stories can change in unexpected ways. I can't predict the future, but I can make pretty good guesses about possibilities from my story idea.

The third outline was something different and just for the sake of keeping everything organized as best as I could. It's not easy juggling a mystery. I wrote the third in point form (the other two are in paragraph form), and color coded all the clues. This clue goes with that clue, etc. It was something I decided to do when I was about 10 chapters into the story. I suddenly realized there was a lot more to juggle than expected (the story had changed, again).

I have no idea if I'll do this again. Like I said, I was still learning and probably won't have to write more than one outline for the next book. At least I hope not. It was a bit anal of me...

Then I kept writing, kept checking my outlines, kept making little tweaks, and overall, went back and forth a lot between the outlines and the manuscript. It worked out well, even better than I'd hoped. Having those outlines on hand helped a great deal to drive me to finish the manuscript.

It wasn't always smooth sailing. There were moments of panic where I had to take a long break, take a step back or just go for a walk. Sometimes I needed to let certain ideas brew and simmer in my mind before I could tackle the next scene/chapter.

The outlines I wrote were my navigator, and my ability to write chose the direction. The combination of both, let me arrive at my intended destination. And what was that? My synopsis.

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