This weekend was productive. I finished my outlining and plotting process for the 1st draft of the 3rd book in my current WIP series. Yes, I’m not kidding when I say it takes me almost an entire weekend to get the plot done. Lucky I already had half the outlining out of the way 😉 About 2k words on my outlining, roughly 3.5k on my fleshing out the plot step, and around 2k on my actual plot detail. 7.5k is not bad for a weekend.
For some people outlining and plotting doesn’t work – they do their best work when they pants. But, after years of attempting to pants, I finally found a process that works for me. This weekend is the third time in four months I’ve sat down to complete what I’d call my very thorough outlining & plotting process.
I’m not saying it’s for everyone, that it’ll sell your story, or has magical powers. But this is how I get my first drafts down. And well, without a first draft there’s nothing to edit or revise, right?
I hope someone finds this helpful.
I was scrounging around the internet, asking the all powerful Google for a magical way to outline my future besteller. What, you ask? Google knew? Well, sorry to disappoint, but no, google didn’t.
It did, however, give me a huge list of blog articles, information and one gem I really took to. SFF.net had the perfect outline in 30 minutes plan for me.
Yeah, I know, 30 minutes is nothing. Let’s just say I take a hell of a lot longer than 30 minutes (usually an hour or two), and go into far more of a detailed outline than they probably intended (with some adaption and additions to questions).
But hey – whatever works, right?
I use this type of outline as my basic outline because it helps me discover things about my story I may not have thought of, or characters I may not have met yet. It gives me a great general foundation to build from.
2. Character/Place/Thing Outlines
I’ve used Scrivener since 2007. Yep, you guessed it, I’m a Mac girl. Now Scrivener has template sheets for Characters and Places. They give a generic list of what to fill in. You can adapt it however you like so you get your characters and places properly outlined – but I’ve found it’s great for furthering my knowledge of my characters and visualizations of the places (and things) in my story.
Now you don’t have to have Scrivener to do this of course. Just make yourself a general character sheet: Name, Background, Appearance, Occupation, Schooling, Internal & External influences, Goals etc. Whatever you need to flesh our your character.
For a place or thing: Appearance, Substance, Name, Location, Description, Usage, Layout (Map it if needed), Place in story, How is it influential etc.
It doesn’t mean your characters can’t surprise you when you start writing – because let’s face it, that’s part of the fun – but it can help (me at least) to round them out. And with all the talking they do in my head, it’s partially therapeutic.
If you’re working on a series, you can always adjust and add for any developments to the character – help round them out and show their growth. Depending on what stage you’re at – if you’re writing a story from scratch, if you’re working on the 3rd book in a series and depending on how many characters, places and things you have which may need fleshing out – depends on how long this is going to take.
Once you’ve got your story outline, your characters, places and things fleshed out – you should be ready to plot.
3. Fleshing out the Plot
Fleshing out the Plot, you ask? Well, I find that I’m not yet ready to dive into a point by point detailed plot outline. I need to sketch the entire story first. There are many steps to this. Again – use Google, read some books and articles. Find something that feels right for you as a basis to start from. I started from SFF.net again. Using the series of Alicia Rasley’s articles as a reference point, and adding in the many books I’ve read on writing – gave me a good ground for fleshing out my plot. Alicia uses Odyssey as an example, and I found this very easy for me to work with.
1. Summarize your story in a one sentence paragraph (Yes, this is much more difficult than it sounds)
2. What message, or messages are you trying to get across with this story?
3. Whose story is it? (For my current WIP, I have three main characters) List the reasons why it’s their story.
4. What about your character is special – and how do you balance this with their negatives?
5. What external, internal and romantic questions do each of these characters have to deal with throughout the book?
6. Do you touch on any major and secondary themes?
7. How are these themes exhibited in your story?
8. How are these themes exhibited in the conflicts and questions of your characters?
9. List three obstacles your characters must overcome.
10. What needs to happen to your character(s) in order for their questions to be answered?
11. How do the obstacles enhance this experience and the story?
12. Sketch out the ending of your story and what must happen for it to reach this point (list this in point form)
13. How will your main characters evolve and change in order for the ending to come about?
14. Keeping your ending in mind, will your characters resolver all their inner, external and romantic conflict questions?
15. How? (This is where I make another point form list of the basic story flow. I make sure each of the characters questions are addressed, as well as major conflicts)
Now, this is just how I flesh my plot out. You can combine questions, come up with your own, remove some of them. There will be a way for you, just as Alicia has her own way and every writer of every writing book I’ve ever read has theirs.
I’ve adapted this to my needs over three fleshed out plots. Depending on the step in the series I’ve spent from 2.5 – 3.5k on this step of the process. It works wonders and allows me to move onto the fourth step which is a point by point detailed outline, which generally runs from 1500-2000 words.
4. Point by Point Detailed Plot Outline
I generally find that when answering 15 in fleshing out the plot, I will manage to give myself a very basic breakdown which I can then expand into paragraphs.
For example – this point is number 15 of my fleshing out process for Book 1:
When sent on her third mission, Sai doesn’t fulfill it – endangering herself and her Sanitizer not to mention all of the Exiled she is around.
Late that same night, Sai will leave the facility, helped, in part, by Bastian and his contacts, and loaded down with a shipment of pure shine for the Exiled as well as blueprints for the main NW base. She will be stopped briefly by Domino where she will request that he let her go. The response Domino gives is the first true sign of his emerging humanity. He blacks out what he is seeing and saying from his connection to the others for just a moment, giving her time to get away and wins a tiny bit of her trust.
The next morning she is missed from the base, and search parties are sent out to find her. Deign and Zacharai (of NWG Fame!) are determined to find her, as she has become one of their more valuable assets. Ashke, Domino, and Bastian are all questioned but to no avail.
As you can see – that one tiny line held a lot more (a whole chapter in fact) of the first book.
Doesn’t outlining and plotting in this much detail detract from the spontaneity of your characters and story?
You know, that’s what I always thought too. But, my characters still change things up on me. For example this chapter ends up being about Sai sent on her third mission by her Mentor as a cover for her defection to the Exiled. Dom assists in the set up and cover-up of the whole escape and develops a bond with Sai far deeper than I originally intended.
There’s no hard and fast rule, nor is anything you outline completely set in stone. There will always be room for your characters to add in elements, to give you better ideas to make it to your ending, and in some cases, to provide you with a better ending altogether.
Don’t let a detailed outline and plot cage your characters and inspiration – just use it as a nice guiding light to the end of the tunnel. Use it as a way to get back from some well worthwhile detours.
5. Write your first draft
This is where I’m ready to start writing my first draft. I usually word war with myself in 20 minute blocks and give myself 2.5k goals which I reset every time I reach one. With this detailed an outline, I can do that speed writing thing. It burns me out rather fast, so I can’t usually manage more than 5-10 days of it at a time. Sometimes that’s even enough for the whole book, but that’s just me.
Well, that’s it. That’s my outlining and plotting process for my first drafts. I’ve found it allows me to write a far tidier first draft than I’ve ever managed before. When I have a revising process, maybe I’ll post about that then.
I’m interested in seeing how others outline? Do you outline? What do you need to outline? What do you use your outline for? Do you plot in detail or point form? Do you plot at all?
If you pants, how do you organize everything?
Hope you enjoyed a glimpse into how my mind works through its first drafts.