Outlining, part two

Right at the moment I have a broad outline: events are described in more or less detail down to the scene, and all of the scenes serve some kind of purpose.

What’s next?

Traditionally in my process this is where I would start NaNoWriMo and splurge words onto the page, but I am trying to be more deliberate and thoughtful here – attempting to observe how to make storytelling work by choice rather than by accident.

There are two things I will work on now.

Firstly, reviewing the characters – ensuring that the characters I have in play are being consistent, and have known motivations (both positive and negative) – by “known” here I mean known to the author rather than known at this point by the reader. Getting to know the characters, basically, but also making sure that the characters have a purpose in being there.

Some writers do character building a lot earlier of course – I’ve done it earlier on other stories – but this project, Song, was a story where characters for the most part emerged as they were needed by the plot and were coarsely sketched. Even when I have characters described before the initial drafting starts I don’t always have everything captured that I need, so some aspect of this character consistency work will probably be needed for any novel I work on.

In any case, I’ve started character description sheets for the major and supporting cast which reveals the depth of my ignorance about most of the characters.

(a digression – I have encountered writers using roleplaying game character sheets as templates for this kind of character description, and I think there’s a place for that, but most RPGs are too crunchy* for that to work well. If having game stats for your characters is going to help you visualise them then I say go for it, but I would find myself getting too caught up in the details)

My second task is to make more detailed notes on the scenes themselves: not writing the words, but laying out in rough descriptions what the scene structure is.

This is straying into word-making mode since this is where I will begin working in the manuscript itself: I will copy the scene descriptions from the scratch area where I’ve been working and start in on detailed outline in the scene documents.

From this workflow you may gather that I have not been using Scrivener for all of my outlining. My spreadsheet has columns for event, characters, and various kinds of notes. There aren’t enough top level fields in the Scrivener outline view to accommodate all of that: by default you have the scene summary card, and you could subdivide that with format conventions, but I would rather have this stuff more explicit.**

One interesting side effect of this process is that I will be abandoning the chapter structure from my original draft, working with scenes alone. We’ll see how I divvy up the text – not every book needs to be arranged in chapters – but keeping it more free-flowing now will help in inserting necessary scenes that wouldn’t have fitted into the former chapter structure.

Anyway, that’s the plan. See how it pans out.

Also, the profane Saint Chuck of Wendig has just posted 25 Things You Should Know About About Outlining – worth a look.

[*] crunchy here means having lots of stats to play with, and lots of game system details to manipulate to maximize the power of your character.

[**] I’ve since found that I can add this kind of custom information to Scrivener, but I’ve mentioned before how I tend to get too involved with the tool and not enough with the work so didn’t find it soon enough. I will probably spend a bit of time copying all of this across from the spreadsheet – pretty good way to stay in touch with the story though!

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