Making A Detailed Outline

Following up on the post about detailed outlining, here are the steps I am following to prepare a detailed outline for Shapes.

It’s worth noting that I am starting to construct this outline when I am about half way through rereading the cleaned up zeroth draft. There will undoubtedly be some pretty significant changes to the outline (indeed, that’s rather the point) but the initial outline will be based solely on the original text.

The process goes something like this:

  1. pull together the text
  2. find a beat
  3. replace beat text with summary
  4. repeat until done

Pull Together the Text

The first thing to do is to collect the text. One option is to use the compiled manuscript text, but Scrivener also supports seeing all the text from selected items in one long stream (which used to be called “Scrivenings” although that name seems to have fallen by the wayside). I selected all the scenes in the draft navigator and then copied all that text into a new text file. I am using vim for the text handling because it is a reliable editing tool.

Fortunately vim can handle big files. After clean up, the Shapes manuscript was 94,000 words and about half a million characters.

Find the Beats

This is something I am definitely feeling my way on.

What exactly is a “beat”?

“Beat” in a writing context is a term I first encountered in Chuck Wendig’s discursive pieces about writing, although I don’t recall his ever explaining it. My interpretation of it is that it’s analogous to a beat in music, the rhythm of the story where something that happens is a beat.

It’s not a perfect analogy for me not just because of the differences in structure between fiction and music, but because I really don’t understand music well enough to be able to apply music-based analogies. However it’s also useful to import a non-writing term for this. If I used a term like “event” then I would focus too much on the plot, or “detail” would divert attention to description. A relatively unfreighted word allows for more meanings to be applied.

I’m going to use the term “beat” to mean a story component which tells the reader something they did not already know.

Beats are going to cover a number of different things:

  • plot – something that happens (an event).
  • description – something in the setting that needs to be conveyed. There’s scope here for different kinds of description, whether it’s for atmosphere or foreshadowing or whatever, but I’m not going to dig into that too much for now. I’m not even going to draw a distinction between character and setting. Specific items of description might be details. The real point about description is that it sets up a situation in which something happens, rather than describing action.
  • dialogue – conversation between characters. The dialogue should containa beats itself, so the goal is to identify what changes because of the conversation rather than just that a conversation occurs.
  • hints and breadcrumbs – things that need to be included now in order to support their use later.

Probably the most significant point about these beats is that they are about what appears in the text, not background which informs how the text is written. This outline is not about world building, but about conveying that world and the story which occurs within it to the reader.

Replace Beat Text With Summary

The goal here is to capture necessary elements of the beat. What gets included here is going to depend on the nature of the beat, but also its scale.

So, a description of the valley the protagonist grows up in could be in the outline as “describe valley mentioning weather, rushing river, and hillside quarry” while a description of one blow in a fight could be “Jim hits Bob with frozen marrow.”

That’s what I am going to be doing for the next couple of weeks probably. I will post again on progress as and when some occurs.

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