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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Keeping Your Story Fresh When Working with an Outline

Please welcome guest blogger Annette McCleave

It’s generally accepted that there are two types of writers: pantsers (those who write simply sit down at the computer and putting their hands on the keyboard) and plotters (those who plot out the details of the story before they type the first word). But, as with anything, the truth is less exact—many of us fall somewhere in between.

Personally, I like to have a basic roadmap before I begin the trip. I want to know where I’m headed and what the major landmarks are along the way. It helps me arrive at the right spot without hundreds of pages of detours that later need to be trimmed from the manuscript. So, I write an outline. But I’ve been asked by many writers who prefer not to use an outline how I avoid losing the creative excitement that comes with flying blind. For some people, the fear of making the process boring keeps them from using an outline.

I find having an outline leaves plenty of room for creative spark. A roadmap doesn’t prevent you from taking excursions—it only provides a guidepost to help you stay on target. Nothing says you can’t take the off ramp and stop for lunch in a quaint little ghost town, or even drive the rest of the way using the back roads—as long as you keep a bead on your final destination.

Here’s a few ways you might make an outline work for you:

  1. Record only the significant turning points. If you write down every last detail in a lengthy synopsis, it could take some of the fun away. Try noting only the critical events that you need to drive the plot and romance toward your planned conclusion. If you require more guidance than that, record only the main conflict in each scene, such as: Bill tries to escape the blood thieves, but fails because they have a silver chain.
  2. Play with point of view. If you planned a scene in one character’s POV, switch it up. Write it from another character’s POV. Everything changes when you change the POV.
  3. Play with setting. If you planned a scene in one spot, move it to another. Better yet, move it somewhere where the setting itself causes more conflict. Instead of having that conversation in the drawing room, put the characters outside during a rainstorm. Or in a creepy, dark basement. Or in a boat with one of the characters unable to swim.
  4. Follow the white rabbit. Occasionally, as you’re writing, one of your characters utters something unexpected, or does something you hadn’t planned. Instead of ruthlessly sticking to the plot you have mapped out, follow the lead. See where it goes. Just keep the landmark turning points in view so you don’t end up too far off course.
  5. Torture your character, literally, if necessary. If you originally envisioned that scene with a hale and hearty hero driving the action, take him down a notch. Have something happen that throws him for a loop—take something important away from him, injure him, etc. Accomplishing the goal you gave him will be much harder now—yet he still must do it if he’s to win the day.
  6. Create a new roadblock. Was your character supposed to tail the villain to his hideout? Serve him a flat tire. Was your heroine supposed to steal a sacred relic from the hero? Serve her an empty vault. Make your character think on his/her feet and I’ll guarantee you won’t be bored.
  7. Reveal a secret even you didn’t know. Okay this one is dangerous. You can’t do a huge reveal halfway through the story if the secret hasn’t been hinted at. BUT, you can do it early in the story, or go back and add in a clue or two later.
  8. Add a scene or skip a scene. Did you plan to write a specific scene? What if you didn’t include it? How would the story change? What if you added in a new scene that you hadn’t planned? Go for it. Just keep your eye on your eventual destination.
  9. Give a person, object, or event mentioned earlier new meaning. Did you mention the heroine’s father at the beginning of the story? Why not have him show up? Does the hero have a scar? Have the reason for his scar knock at the door.
  10. Kill someone. This is always on the table. Bodies always cause excitement. J

Despite my outline, I find writing a novel a voyage of discovery from beginning to end. Not only do the characters reveal themselves and change in ways I hadn’t imagined, but the smaller events and setting details can add incredible details I wasn’t able to see when I started. It’s like comparing a black and write snapshot to a movie shot in glorious Technicolor.

If you’re at all tempted to try outlining, give it a whirl.

Annette McCleave is the award winning author of the Soul Gatherer paranormal romances series about immortal warriors who battle demons for the souls of the dead. Mother of one, pet owner, and former high tech executive, Annette currently writes for NAL Signet Eclipse.

Bound by Darkness

Soul Gatherer Brian Webster has long lived with the guilt of failing to save his teenage sister. When another girl dies in his arms protecting an ancient coin from a demon, he takes up her cause. The coin is one of the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas. United, the coins are a dark relic of immense power, and in the wrong hands, they could destroy civilization.

Lena Sharpe is on her own mission to find the Judas coins. A Soul Gatherer by day and a thief by night, she’s negotiated the most important deal of her life. When a brazen warrior intervenes and kidnaps her to obtain the coins, she repeatedly attempts to escape. But Brian is unrelenting, fearful that the beautiful felon has made a pact with the devil himself. And he’s not entirely wrong.

Bound together by burning desire and a similar darkness in their hearts, Brian and Lena race against time to recover the missing coins. But as the truth behind Lena’s bargain surfaces, Brian is faced with a desperate choice — save the one, or save the many.


Anonymous said...

Outline? Ahhh. Just kidding. I'm sooo a pantser. But that doesn't work for all people, though.

You make good points here.

Great post.

Annette McCleave said...

LOL, Lynn. There's no value in changing what works, and pantsing works perfectly for a lot of writers. Thanks for stopping by!

Angela McCallister said...

I am pretty much a pantser, but I like that you brought up the "somewhere in between." Once I'd finished my first draft and began revising, book two began calling to me. Since I was busy revising, I wasn't actively working on it, so I jotted down notes as the ideas came up. Guess I've got a little plotter in me after all...

Annette McCleave said...

Angela--Most authors need to submit proposals even after we sell that first book, so it's not a bad idea to cultivate a little of the 'somewhere in between'. I do like to keep the road fairly open, myself. :-)

Anonymous said...

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