The Danger of The Not Quite Complete Outline

As I’ve mentioned in these pages before, when it comes to the ‘plotting vs. pantsing‘ debate I fall firmly into the former camp. I wouldn’t dream of starting the first draft of a book without having a well-defined outline of the high level plot, chapters to get from A to Z, and even the scenes that make up those chapters. I just don’t know where I’m going otherwise.

So when it came to starting work on my current WIP–Causal Nexus, which will be the third book in the Unity Sequence–the first thing I did was build that outline. Start to finish, all the characters, all the arcs, all done and ready to draft.

Or so I thought.

I started writing, and the first few chapters came with ease. Then, as I neared the end of part one (of three) I started to slow down. The words weren’t coming so easily, and I found I just wasn’t sitting down to write as much as I should be. For a while I assumed it was just life getting in the way; work being busy, too much other ‘stuff’ that needed doing, etc.

But then a couple of weeks ago I went to a work conference, where several colleagues who have read my first two books accosted me–in a friendly way–and demanded to know when the third one was coming out, because they were tired of waiting for it. Which is obviously a very nice thing to hear, and gave me a kick up the backside.

The day after I got home I fired up Scrivener and spent an hour poring over what I’d written so far, the character bios, the outline, the– wait, the outline. I realised that what I’d thought was a very well-defined incident at the start of act two, which kicks off the sequence of events that drives the story through to the end of the book, was in fact not very well-defined at all. Was damn near woolly, in fact. Vague.

I’m not sure how that happened; I can only assume I was in a rush to get down all the other exciting stuff that happens after that point. But regardless, I rolled up my sleeves and fixed it. Nailed those few scenes down so they made sense, flowed, and tied into other plot points both earlier and later in the story.

And what do you know? Now I’m back to full speed again. Seems that my being sub- or unconsciously aware that I didn’t-quite-100-per-cent-totally know where I was going next was making me tentative about getting to that point. Once I did–boom. Away I went.

The moral of the story here, my plotter friends, is that if you ever find your writing trundling along at less than your normal place, or worse, stalling entirely, take a good hard look at your outline. It might be a bit more… ‘pantsy’, shall we say, than you thought.

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What’s Going On (Right On, Baby, Right On)

It’s been a little while. What have I been up to? There are a few strands.

Venus Rising is mid-edit. I’ve got feedback from a couple more beta readers coming in the next week or so, and then some edits to make. After that, the MS goes to Misti at Red Adept on March 11th for a good tearing apart and putting back together again. Stephanie is working on the cover, and I hope to have that ready to reveal in the next week or so. Can’t wait.

Meanwhile, I’ve pulled together the outline for the next book. It’s going to be a novella, and the third book in the still-unnamed series. I have a title which I love, but which I’m not quite ready to announce yet; I’ve got three parts, and a brief summary for all of the scenes. I still need to expand the character bios and write those up, and then I’ll be ready to start the first draft.

But before I do that, I’m doing something a little bit random. I’ve realised that it’s got to the point where I can’t quite hold all of the important details of the Ascension Point universe in my head. It’s crucial for the continuity and consistency of the other books in the series (and the trilogy I’ve got planned after that–watch this space) that I keep track of all of the people, places, factions, groups, landmarks and technology that I’ve created. So to help me do that I’ve started indexing everything in an already-massive spreadsheet. It’s pretty damn tedious, but it should mean that when I’m halfway through a draft of my sixth novel I don’t spontaneously change the canon I set up in the earlier books. That’s the idea, anyway.

So that’s my update. I’m still on track to release Venus Rising in April, so look out for that!

(P.S. If you didn’t get the reference in the title, it’s from ‘What’s Going On’ by Marvin Gaye. Do yourself a favour, and familiarise yourself: Marvin Gaye – The Best Of Marvin Gaye.)

Super Monday Morale Boost: Activate

Got a wonderful bit of feedback from Misti this morning. When I fired off my edited MS to her on Saturday night, I mentioned how baffled I was that she hadn’t given me any notes on the storyline, or characterisation–you know, the broader strokes of the novel. I was a bit worried that I’d accidentally bought the wrong editing service, and got just copyediting instead of developmental/structural/content editing.

Instead, I received this gem in Misti’s reply, which has absolutely made my day.

“As for the content question, you might remember me commenting on your outlining during your phone call, and asking about your reading habits. I didn’t notice any issues with the storyline, and the only character issues I noticed were the speech patterns. You’re quite right that so few content issues is unusual for first books.”

Me, shortly after

Book Two: Embiggened

Some of you may recall a post from a few months back where I talked about my second book, ROGUE, and how it was starting to come along nicely–but was going to be too short. At the time I was planning to just keep writing the bloody thing, and let the story tell me where it could best be expanded, or the characters deepened. You know, writerly stuff like I imagine Stephen King does.

That’s not one of my strong suits, as it turns out.

It’s not like I’ve sat down to write very often in the last ten weeks or so–what with getting married and all–but when I have, I’ve found it almost impossible to crack on with drafting when I know the outline’s not finished. I can’t do it. I find myself just staring at the wall, wondering where I could slot in another chapter, or an extra subplot.

Well, happy day, I finally worked it out. And, like all the best ideas, it was completely obvious in hindsight. Just one additional chapter at the end of act two, a few build-up scenes inserted into previous chapters to point the way, and lo and behold we have a new secondary character and a plot tweak that cranks up the tension for Possible Ending Flashpoint #1.

Boom. Suddenly I have a twenty chapter novel which should roll in at about 75K words, and be a much more satisfying read.

Phew. Now I can write it!

Link Dump: Write Smarter, Not Harder

It clearly was now time for bed,

His eyes felt so bleary and red.

But it struck our host

That he had yet to post

So he banged out a link dump instead.

And finally, some immortal words from Mr. Kurt Vonnegut.

G’night, folks.

The Joy of a New Project

With my completed WIP currently with my beta readers for feedback, I’ve started on my second book – tentatively titled ROGUE. I’ve spent my writing time in the last week or so working on the outline, and now have chapter summaries for the whole book, which is very satisfying.

It’s one of the most exciting parts of writing, starting a new project. Read more…

Writing While-U-Wait

What to do when you can’t write, or edit, your WIP? Like now, when I’m waiting for feedback from my beta readers. (Or rather I will be when a new printer cartridge arrives in the mail, so I can print a copy, so my fiancée can read it. I bet Stephen King never has this problem. Anyway.)

You write the next thing, of course! I’ve had the high-level premise for the next book knocking around for a while now, and today I started putting some bones on it. I’ve now got a chapter-summary outline for the first half, and biographies for the four protagonists, which I think is a pretty good day’s work.

The second book is set in the same universe as the first, a few months later, with a slight overlap in characters – I’m not sure if this will be confusing when I start switching between projects. I hope not.

Another pitfall I’ll need to avoid is due to the setting – the story is primarily based on a harsh, desert world, with an advanced but still fiercely tribal culture. I’ve already had to throw a few possible plot points away because I realised I’d unconsciously ripped them wholesale from Dune.

Damn you, Frank Herbert. Using up all the good desert-based material. Oh well. I’ll manage!