Today’s post was inspired by a dear friend from college. Although we haven’t always been able to spend a lot of time each other, we have always been able to learn and grow as writers. So, thank you, Parris, for giving me something to blog this evening:
“I’d love to know what your outlining process looks like. What are the first things you do when you have an idea that you want to turn into a story? Also, I know you have a series in the works. Do you plan the series out before you write the first book or do you create as you go, book by book?” —Parris Sheets
Alright. Full disclaimer: I am not a master writer and my way is by no means the best. I’m still just experimenting with different methods for my creations. So my outlining techniques are absolutely not the only options out there.
Usually, when I first come up with a story idea, I write it down. Otherwise, I forget it. I always keep a dozen notebooks handy, just in case. A lot of what I originally write down never actually makes it into the actual story, but that’s okay; the important thing is to get all the thoughts out of my head so I can edit the notes later. I also use the notebook to start organizing the characters, setting, and parts of the main conflict.
When I have a good handle on the story–usually months or years later–I start to outline individual chapters on note cards. I started out trying to write out cards chronologically, but that just becomes a headache when I can’t think of something good that happens next. As ideas come to me, I jot down a couple thoughts and throw the card into a pile. I then organize them into a timeline when I have a substantial amount. What normally occurs, is that I have to go back through them and add some filler chapters to expand on the characters or introduce enough side conflicts in order to support the main arc plot lines.
This probably goes without saying, but I’ll mention it anyways: the outline is NOT set in stone. As I’m writing the first draft, it’s fairly common that I am confused by my own notes or appalled by how awful and simple the chapter outlines are. So, yes, I regularly revise my outline note cards as I write.
Now I feel like I need to address something before I go on. NOT ALL WRITERS ARE OUTLINERS. There is a sect of authors who do what’s often referred to as “Discovery Writing.” Many wordsmiths hate the constriction of having their stories meticulously organized before they write. These writers feel that characters become “more real” and the plot feels “spontaneous” when they write as they go. All they have is a couple thoughts in their head and they let their fingers discover the story one word at a time.
I’ll admit that I’ve done both Outlining and Discovery Writing–most writers combine the two. Although I like to plan where a story will go, sometimes I love just starting the tale without preparation to see where it can go. I rely mostly on Discovery when a story is fresh in my mind and I need to start generating some ideas.
However, I get discouraged if I spend too much time Discovery Writing. I need to know where I’m heading. Otherwise, I get into a rut and the dreaded Writer’s Block sets in. (Note: I realize that many modern authors deny the existence of Writer’s Block; I’ll cover my thoughts on it in a future post.) So I normally abandon the Discovered story, but not before surgically adding pieces of it to the book I’ve finished Outlining.
Moving on to the next question Parris asks, I’d like to address how I’ve gone about planning a series. To refresh your memory, she asked: “Also, I know you have a series in the works. Do you plan the series out before you write the first book or do you create as you go, book by book?”
The series that she mentioned is The Rygom Narratives. I’m still deciding on a number, but there will likely be at least nine volumes by the time I end the Narratives. Only Book 1, “Iris,” has been completed. I have an abominably horrible first draft of “Alteration: Book 2” that I wrote in college years ago; but it is in desperate need of months and months of revision. I plan on releasing it by the end of 2017, though.
So to answer Parris’s question, yes, I had the series planned before I began writing–to a point. I had spent over three years “World Building” the culture and population of the Megacity Rygom. I was going to school full-time all those years, so it took quite a bit of time until I was confident enough in the story to actually START writing it.
I knew what would eventually happen to each of the main characters. I knew how they were secretly connected, or how different characters would meet if they had no elaborate past interactions. I knew the struggles and main conflicts they would go through as they pursued their version of happiness. I knew who would triumph and who would perish.
That doesn’t mean that I knew EVERYTHING! Like I mentioned earlier, strict planning can lead to stiff, uninteresting characters. I left room for a little discovering as I wrote out their individual journeys. And that definitely doesn’t mean that I have nine books of outlines all laid out. Most of it is still in my head, stewing in my subconscious as I grow as a writer. But I’m glad that I have a sense of direction to lead and nudge my characters as they each live their part of The Rygom Narratives.
On a similar thought, “Undoing Life” and “Reps and Royals” had originally meant to be stand-alone-novels. I had absolutely no intention of revisiting the tales of the twenty-fifth century time-travelers, nor returning to the quirky but dangerous planet of The World. However, I’ve gotten such good feedback on those stories from readers on how much they’d like to see more of those tales. I’m considering it–possibly. So it’s okay if you don’t have an entire series planned before you begin Book 1.
Well, Parris, I hope this answered your questions. To anyone else, reading this, I hope it gives you some ideas about writing your next book or clarifies the thoughts that go into planning a story.
If there is anything that you’re curious about, please leave a comment. I’m kinda floundering for blog post ideas, so I’d love input from my readers.
Tune in tomorrow for a Sample Chapter of my upcoming book, “Mended by Ashes.”