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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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.

Plotting on the Fly

With the final, professional edit of ASCENSION POINT on hold until August (lovely fiancée and I getting married in late July, so I’ve not got the time to properly engage with that just yet), I’m cracking on with drafting my second book, ROGUE.

It’s going pretty well – I’ve got a solid outline, a punchy main plot with lots of action, and an ending I’m hoping will come as a bit of a surprise. I’ve drafted the prologue and the first couple of chapters, and everything’s ticking along nicely.

However.

It’s too short.

Or rather it will be, as the outline currently stands. I’ve roughly estimated word count to draft the remaining chapters, and I don’t think it’s going to break 70,000 words. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’ll still meet the technical definition of ‘a novel’, but I feel like it’ll need another 5-10,000 words to flesh it out, and give it a bit of depth. I don’t think the main plotline needs extending, so I’d like to weave in an interesting side/sub-plot.

Problem is I can’t think of anything right now. Hence the title of the post – I’m hoping that somewhere around chapter three or four the story, or the characters, will tell me what it should be. One of those satisfying ‘a-ha!’ moments we all so love.

Not this kind of A-Ha.

I’m sure it’ll Take On… come to… Hmm. There’s a pun in there somewhere.

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…