Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Outlining a Novel--Pre-First Draft Pt. 3

Last week I gave the framework for how I outline my novels (click here to see that post). This week I'm going to focus on how I use that framework. It all basically boils down to one technique: freewriting.

I tackle my ten scenes first. I don't plot these scenes at this point. Instead, I simply write a sentence, maybe two, about them. As I said last time, these are nothing but anchors to get me started. Later in the process is when I'll mold them into workable scenes.

I usually have a pretty good idea for a few of the ten scenes. I'll write them down first. Then, building on those I know, I'll freewrite ideas for the rest of the scenes. What I mean by this is I'll get a blank sheet of paper and write down ideas. I turn off my inner critic and go for anything, no matter how cliched or absurd. After awhile (sometimes an idea or two, sometimes ten or more), something will grab my attention, and I'll plug it into my scenes. I'll continue building until I've constructed the list of ten.

Once my ten scenes are complete, I'll see a pretty good framework for the story. But between each of those scenes are plenty of others that need to be imagined. Now it's time to freewrite some more. But I don't just wade in and hope something sticks; I like to play the "What if?" game.

If you are unfamiliar with the "What if?" game, it's when you ask yourself question after question about your story (usually starting with "What if") and come up with answers. I start with mundane questions and work myself up to the absurd. I then hone down my answers until I find something I'm happy with. I do this based on each of the ten scenes and everything in between until I'm satisfied I have enough material to construct a full outline.

To create my outline, I return to freewriting. I put a 1 on my page and flesh out the first scene of the novel. Once I'm satisfied with that scene, I'll put a 2 on the page and do the same with the second scene. I continue this way until I have my entire manuscript mapped out. I use my ten scenes and "What if?" questions (along with the various other freewrites) as guides. Sometimes as I go I'll decide to add scenes (or subtract scenes), but that's simple at this point. I just add or subtract the numbers.

My outlines have a pretty good amount of details, but they don't have everything I'll want to say when I start writing. For example, if there is a fight scene, my outline will say something simple like, "So-and-so fights so-and-so." I'll leave the details to my first draft. I also don't do much describing in my outline (except for vital descriptions that need to be in the story) so I can be creative in the first draft process. Basically I don't want to have to worry about structure while I'm writing, but I still like to be creative. How I construct my outline lets this happen.

Once this process is done (and it can take multiple writing sessions), I still have a few more steps before I'm ready to write. I'll get to those next week. Until then, keep writing and/or reading.