Monday, April 27, 2009

Outline Ideas: Planning and Plotting

Tip of the Day: Now that the sun is finally shining in Upstate New York (can you believe it?), it's time for me to remember to apply my face moisturizer with SPF 30 in the morning. I'm so glad someone invented that stuff!

I just finished a later draft of a novel, and I have another novel where I stopped writing at the climax chapter. Nothing beats sitting down and churning out pages for getting things done, but I'm at the point where my projects need organization. I need a plan, and that means I need to spend time planning.

I'm not a great outliner. I'm not sure I'm even a mediocre outliner. I can write them, but they never turn out as expected. What I thought I could cover in a few pages turns out to be two chapters long. Then months later, I'll figure out how I can get from plot point A to plot point B a better way ... but then I'll have to scrap the outline! Horrors! It was so hard to write! Why did I bother?

On the other hand, looking at a draft of a novel and writing down as my weekly goal "Make this better" isn't working out either.

Right now, I'm really digging this article by Alicia Rasley called Outline Your Novel in Thirty Minutes ( It's a series of 9 questions about your idea. I used it to test a potential plot idea for a new book to see if it had potential. I also used it for the novel I'm working on. That one already has a plot (or so I like to think), but the questions helped me identify a way to build in more tension that I'm excited about.

Here's the first question on the list: 1. At the start of your book, what distinguishes your protagonist from other people? What central strength does he/she have? How does this strength get him/her into trouble?

Isn't that brilliant? What makes your main character different from other people? (Okay, you can all take a minute and answer that one.)

So instead of working on a chapter by chapter outline, I've been working on big, macro-level outlines. I've noticed that it gives me ideas that I can slot into this chapter or that, and I jot them down with notes like "C3" for chapter 3. (Fancy code, right?) I'll still have to whip this into something with a timeline (ahh, the dreaded timeline!!!) but staring at a spreadsheet with a chapter column is so not me.

Hmm, start with the short plot summary and then expand it into details ... yeah, not so revolutionary. I've been hearing that forever. But hearing it and figuring out how to put it into practice are two different things! Any advice?

-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages


DeenaML said...

I think my best "outlining" comes from when I just start rambling on the page about what happens, like how a little kid tells a story: "And then THIS happened, and then THIS, and then THIS AND THIS!"

Summer said...

This is something I could definitely try. Thanks!

Lisa Schroeder said...

Thanks for that awesome link, Kate! I'm going to use it!!

Kate Fall said...

Cool! I'm doing some outline notes now but they seem to be riddled with question marks. Good sign or bad I wonder?

Christina Farley said...

Great link Kate! I loved this post. You really pointed out so important things.