Month: December 2014

Detailed Outlining

I’m rereading Shapes of Chance at the moment, which is a positive experience so far. I particularly enjoyed the characterisation on one of the more odious side characters.

There’s a lot to fix in the book, though, including some experiments I want to try in reworking the premise a bit. My usual process has been to do a complete redraft for these kinds of experiments, but that’s monstrously inefficient and rather off-putting – if it’s going to take a month of hard writing to try out a different opening and to work through the ramifications of that change, then it just won’t happen no matter how much potential the change might have.

For both of these reasons, then, I am going to try some much more detailed outlining than I have done so far.

Truth to tell, I’ve always needed some kind of outline when I’ve been writing novels. Even for my very first NaNoWriMo I wrote chapter summaries, and those summaries have been getting more and more fine-grained ever since*. What I’m going to do now is to perform a beat by beat breakdown of a scene, maybe even down to the back and forth in dialogue where appropriate, to capture what actually happens in enough detail to not have to make any plotting decisions at all during the actual writing.

I have been inspired to try this by reading this post about increasing writing productivity. That post really struck a chord with me, and I find myself excited by the idea of working with larger chunks of story and shifting those around. It’s like the difference between writing linear assembly language code compared to modular programming, or using a shovel to shape a pile of sand rather than tweezers: it’s still work, but the scale of it is not so overwhelming.

What I’ve tried to do before is to use the outlining mode in Scrivener and occasional spreadsheets. That seems to be fine for coarse outlines, but not much use for the level of detail I am interested in here. The goal is to have an outline which I can paste into the working file and replace, element by element, with the actual text.

For an existing manuscript, I am going to try reversing that process by taking a copy of the manuscript text and describing each beat in situ. Once I have that I can do the kind of broad plot manipulation and notes on breadcrumbs that I currently try to do at the scene level, but which end up being too general to be useful. I’m guessing that for a 100k manuscript (which both Shapes and Song are) I will end up with something like a 5-10k outline, or roughly a 10 or 20:1 word count ratio. I will be interested to see if that holds true.

If this works out then the next stage will be for me to write an outline like this first before the draft. I am wondering if the Scrivener annotation feature will work here: turn the outline into an annotation, and insert the replacement text in between. This will help with checking back that the text properly represents the outline.

Or this will all collapse in a heap of excessive detail.

How much detail do you go into on your outlines? Have you ever outlined an existing manuscript?

[*] and the time I didn’t have solid chapter outlines all the way to the end was the hardest year to finish the story that I ever had.

Leave a Comment

How I Prepare Manuscripts

I compile manuscripts for two basic use cases: printing out after completing a draft for its drawer rest (and possibly, at some point, for submission), and sending out an electronic copy to early readers. These are the workflows for each.

The Tools

I use several tools for making these manuscripts:

  • Scrivener – it’s my primary writing environment, and it has an enormously powerful Compile feature which gathers the text together in whatever way you see fit.
  • OpenOffice (also LibreOffice) – my DTP tool, because Scrivener is explicitly not about detailed print layout.
  • Inkscape – if I need to do cover graphics, I will usually do them in here. It’s a powerful vector drawing tool so scaling introduces no image degradation.

Print and Rest

Stephen King says in his book On Writing that once a manuscript is completed you should wait six weeks before reading it so that you have distance from your work to gain a small measure of objectivity about the writing.

I do this by printing it out and literally putting it in a drawer, one that I routinely keep locked.

  1. compile draft – use settings for Print and then customise to suit your needs.
    • conventional manuscript format is double-spaced 10 or 12 point Courier or Courier New*. I write in that format too because I find it gives me room to think, but the point in hard copy is to leave room for notes on the page.
    • I like to use the following layout settings: page break before each scene; display scene title. Both of these settings are for the purposes of making it easy to figure out where in the manuscript you are where applying comments to the document,

    I’m not going to into more detail here because the Compile Draft feature is pretty deep and I have only paddled in it.

  2. export as ODT – Scrivener will export as a Word doc also, but use OpenOffice so I export in ODT.
  3. open the document in OpenOffice
  4. optional: modify the headers and footers as you would like. This is most important if the headers are just too noisy for resting use, but for a submission manuscript you should probably leave them alone.
  5. optional: create a cover page. Scrivener will export a title page with basic information about the book on it which is suitable for submission, but I like to use something a little bit more ornamental. Include the title, author and date on the title page.
  6. print it out. This may be as simple as loading up your printer and hitting Print in OpenOffice, but for me I work in 50-100 page blocks because otherwise my printer overflows its memory and nothing comes out.
    • for resting the manuscript, I print out on pre-punched paper to make binding easier. I also print double-sided to save paper and weight.
    • conventional submission guidelines usually ask for the manuscript to be unbound, so plain paper is usually best for that. Also, usual requirement is for single-sided.
    • obviously the paper size will depend on where you and the specifics of the market you are submitting to. Good luck finding A4 if you’re in the US, though.
    • for drawer rest, I print the cover page on light card stock for a tiny bit of durability.
  7. bind the manuscript. I have used binders, treasury tags, binder clips, and binder rings, but my current preferred binding tool is the machine post. Using these will  give a bit of spine to an otherwise loose manuscript, but they cost more (a dollar a post at my local shop for such things) and getting the right length is fiddly.
  8. place in drawer. Set calendar reminder to open drawer on appointed date.

Early Reader Copy

I have early readers who I want to give access to the book, but dropping 250 sheets of paper on them is a bit heavy so I compile for e-reader and send the files out. I also use this tool for those times when I need to reread the material myself.

  1. create a cover image. It doesn’t need to be particularly amazing at this point, but it needs to be distinctive in order to stand out in the e-reader’s browse screen. It also helps to include details in the cover that change with versions, so I often change background colours and include the manuscript date.
  2. import the cover into Scrivener, in the folder Front Matter / E-Book
  3. compile draft – use settings for e-book. If you are compiling for .mobi (Kindle) you will need to install the Caliber tools as well.
    • set the cover image to the one you imported.
    • export in the e-book format of your choice.
  4. send to your readers

[*] different markets will have their own requirements, though, so read the submission guidelines.

Leave a Comment

NaNoWriMo 2014: The Hangover

Words Written: 50,346
Scenes Scribed: 31/31
Fragments Fixed: 35/35

I didn’t end up adding quite as much as I expected from the fragments left to address, but still – I wrote “THE END” because I completed the story. The final manuscript is 108,604 words long.

a large slab of paper

a large slab of paper

I have printed the manuscript out and it is now resting in a drawer, waiting for the regulation six weeks until I can read it with some kind of distance.

108k printed double-spaced at 12 point Courier is 568 pages, and the practical details of the printout are that I ran out of toner (it was an old cartridge, replaced by a much cheaper but still perfectly functional cartridge from Monoprice) and then I ran out of paper (I use pre-drilled because punching holes in 259 sheets of paper is onerous). Of course, I ran out just at the time when the shops were closing on Friday, so finishing the printout had to wait until Saturday morning.

Things I have learned from this year’s effort:

  • I need to make my outlines more detailed, which really translates to mapping out action scenes and even dialogue in much more detail before I sit down to write. Someone posted a link to a blog about increasing writing efficiency and although I don’t especially want to be writing 10k a day as a normal thing, I do want to avoid the occasional wallow as the plot deserts me. The trick, as ever, will be finding the time to write those outlines because I struggle to work at that level of creativity at my most available writing times.
  • Evernote can’t be trusted. Almost losing my novel notes was distressing, to put it mildly. I am still working on the replacement, but it will probably bear a lot of similarities to existing workflows.
  • I need to calibrate my maze tracker more carefully. The one I used this year had a shortest route of 53 squares, which since I was aiming for 50k was setting myself up to fail from the start. I compounded this by actually filling in one of the side paths first, so I ended up with 23 unfilled squares on the way to the exit. I am choosing to take this as a metaphor for the amount of work still remaining on the story, but really I do prefer to put the last thousand in the last square of the maze.

And now, on to the next thing, which is editing Shapes of Chance, my 2013 NaNovel.

Leave a Comment