Thursday 18th March 2021
I’ve spent a good part of my writing time today working on outlines. Bizarrely, I’ve found myself naturally switching between two. One is a fun, almost-YA fantasy, whilst the other is a more serious epic fantasy.
Perhaps because they are so vastly different in tone is how I’ve been able to work on the two.
What I’ve been trying to do is take the ideas I have and fit them into a 27 stage outline template I have. These 27 stages will form the basis of my chapters. However, chapters will merge and expand, so in the writing I expect it’ll end up around 30 chapters. It’s a guide rather than something rigid.
I originally did this outlining in Scrivener, giving a card on the corkboard to each stage. However, because of the amount of outlining I’m doing across a number of projects, I’ve created a Word document that I can access from anywhere. It saves me having to open different scrivener files all the time, so this step is more a practical step than anything creative.
Once the Word template is complete, I’ll transfer it to Scrivener.
What I like about the template is that it forces me to address the gaps between major scenes. When it comes to first outlining, I find I’m usually very strong on the opening chapters, I’ll often have an end and then maybe a few vague ideas inbetween.
After filling in my template with what I have I’ll approach it two ways: from the initial chapters forward, and from the end backwards. One is about saying “What is the result of this happening?” , the other is “What caused this to happen?”
I want any story to have multiple threads. Usually, this can be best summarised as ‘big main quest is solved by something that happens as part of a character’s side quest that’s been happening in the background’.
On my first pass, I’m very much focused on the world problem. How do we overcome the big bad?
But as I work backwards, I will inevitably start asking how a character got hold of the item or knowledge they need to overcome the big bad. I find I gravitate towards it being something the character gained in a side quest. This allows me to pull the various story strands together.
Of course, I have to hide this from the reader, and so I have to make this side quest as something that distracts from the main quest. It needs to throw up complications and obstacles. It has to be both something the character needs to deal with but also a real annoyance.
As I work backwards, the trick is to try and make the side quest as removed from the main quest as possible.
But it also needs to make sense. That’s where the working forwards will ensure that that side quest doesn’t feel something bolted on, but something that is integral to the story and that’s pretty much there from the get go.
At the moment I’m building a lot of threads. I have characters that are essentially secondary antagonists. And I’m working out how facing those secondary antagonists can help my main character defeat the big bad.
I’ve yet to get to secondary protagonists yet. I have a few, but at the moment they are set dressing. I’ve yet to establish what they want and how that can help or hinder the main character.
Part of that arc will be to do with theme. Having a good idea of my main character’s arc now (even if there are gaps), I’m close to getting to the stage where I need to establish theme? I probably have a few options here, and the trick will be to see which could match with other characters in the book, and build their arc around it.
As you can see, there’s a ton of thinking needed here, and it’s not simple. I attack it in waves. I go in, work on one small element, and then need to take a break.
However, I’ve found having another project useful. When I feel I need to take a break from one project, I can work on another.
Maybe this will lead to identical themes and repeated ideas, but I think the projects are so different in tone that they’re allowing me to use one as a palette cleanser for the other, a bit like my Mobius strip of productivity.
I really want to get these outlines done. But I also know they take time. I have to push myself, but not too much. How much is too much? No idea, but I guess I’m going to find out.
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