I was about 15,000 words into a sci-fi novel and in a discussion with my treasured writer friend. “While I was outlining my story, blah blah blah,” he announced casually to me. “Aroo? Outlining?” I asked. Because I hadn’t. Outlined. Anything. Just threw it on the screen, like you do.
“Post-it notes, whiteboard, outlining, blah blah blah,” he responded. Post it notes? This sounded painful. I hate the prep work. Hate. It. I just want to write.
But that’s stupid. Sure, you can write product for days and weeks and 120 thousand words later, you’ve got a novel but it’s poop because there’s all sorts of stuff in there that, you know, doesn’t advance the plot. It’s pretty. Yeah, pretty pointless. So back to outlining.
I pull out my trusty amazon tab and type in “outlining novels.” Up pops this book by Randy Ingermanson which has a link to a website. Cool, I want to get some nuts and bolts without purchasing anything yet. I hit up Randy’s site,
There’s steps, concrete steps to take to get your outline done in a few hours/days/weeks and start writing a successful novel. I take copious notes in excel. Then I start grinding.
I hate you, thesis statement. Does ANYONE like those guys? Except English Teachers, and I’m sure they’re just Toe the Line people who have to pretend to like thesis statements Because They Want to Keep a Job. Yep, all in the name of expediency. I start with my thesis statement. And it’s hard to boil the whole novel down into one sentence. Gah! But this is something that will force me to understand the entire novel and what it’s about… genre-wise, at least. It’s not a milieu novel, or an idea novel, or a character novel, which leaves E, whatever that is. (See Orson Scott Card’s MICE system, if you will.)
The paragraph is easier, because I get to type a few more words this time, and you might be able to tell I like typing words. Thesis statement, one sentence for each act, and a conclusion. This forces me to write the conclusion. No wonder I bogged down at 15 K words… no road map.
Then there’s characters. Call me Leo Tolstoy. I got ’em. That part isn’t hard. I can characterize til I am blue in the face and I’ll still have more. But the questions — what are the goals of each character? What is the conflict? And so on– those questions force me to examine each character as a person, not just backdrop. With a group of space marines, it’s tricky, because some of them don’t have goals, or don’t know they have goals, but some of them do. That guy over there wants to be an officer, and that guy over there is doing it just so he can get off his crummy planet, and that girl is seeking a place to belong, and so on. Right away, I discover that with writing the second character as a foil for the protagonist, that another character is going to die because it’s going to make the scenes following far more conflicted as we see a sub-story: will the NCO be able to function as an officer?
From there, it was a matter of fleshing out each of the sentences in the story paragraph into an entire paragraph detailing the things happening in each act. And then doing some reworking of the characters because the flow of the story needed some tweaks. I found out at this point that my main POV character was too lowly to be having much conflict, or at least the conflict I wanted to write. See, there is conflict for a grunt, but it’s manifested as stay alive, don’t let your officers kill you off, and deal with the stupidity of your fellow grunts. Whereas, if the POV character gets a promotion from grunt to fire-team-leader, she’s now responsible for three other characters, has to deal with a second fire team in her squad, and interact with her squad leader, her platoon sergeant, and very rarely the platoon leader. Maybe even moving her up to squad leader would make her problems come to the fore as the additional responsibility of managing 8 people instead of 3 would be more conflicty.
I haven’t made that final decision yet.
Then I was to write the story paragraphs into full one page summaries. This part saw me hitting the high level logic of the story and finding more gaps and problems that needed fixing. How do we get from here to there? It was act 3 of the book that was the problem, and on the third re-draft I discovered that the planet the marines end up on has been invaded by another government’s army.
Interesting how that works, isn’t it?
I’ve been finally hitting the scene list, and that went pretty well– I just pulled sentence by sentence from the page summaries. My Goal was to create the scene list with Scene/Sequel for each of the scenes.
My conflict was that this is not easy to do. I’m trying to take a story narrative and ram it into S/S format. Ugh.
Disaster! The format of S/S isn’t fitting the narrative. So… I’m back to rewrite stage. Scene. Sequel. Etc. Argh.