Month: February 2015

Working With An Outline, part 1

Since I am working on a detailed outline for Shapes, I thought it might be useful to make some notes about how I intend to use that outline once it’s complete. Although these notes are formed in the context of the one book, I expect they’ll be relevant to other outlined projects I work on too (like Song, for example).

Outline Format

Before digging in on what to use an outline for, these are some specific thoughts on the format of the outline itself.

Working as I am with existing text, I took that text and applying the following transformations to it:

<line number>: <outline line> [ <text line> ]

So given this text:

Once upon a time, there was a young woman called Mary. She was a shepherdess, which means she spent long periods of time up on the moors away from other people but surrounded by sheep.
This suited Mary fine, since she generally found the villagers who owned the sheep to be about as bright as the sheep themselves.
Despite entrusting their sheep to Mary, her work as a shepherdess was not highly-regarded by the villagers and so they didn’t always keep the sheep harnesses in good repair.
Mary also had one lamb of her own that the blacksmith had given her in lieu of payment for her shepherding. She tried not to play favourites with the sheep (not that the sheep would notice, of course) but she was very fond of this little lamb, who she called Algernon.

… I start with the following content in the outline document:

1: [Once upon a time, there was a young woman called Mary. She was a shepherdess, which means she spent long periods of time up on the moors away from other people but surrounded by sheep.]
2: [This suited Mary fine, since she generally found the villagers who owned the sheep to be about as bright as the sheep themselves.]
3: [Despite entrusting their sheep to Mary, her work as a shepherdess was not highly-regarded by the villagers and so they didn't always keep the sheep harnesses in good repair.]
4: [Mary also had one lamb of her own that the blacksmith had given her in lieu of payment for her shepherding. She tried not to play favourites with the sheep (not that the sheep would notice, of course) but she was very fond of this little lamb, who she called Algernon.]

This transformation is exactly the kind of thing that text editors like vim and emacs excel at.

Turning Text Into An Outlineable Format

I am a vim user, and these are the steps I followed in that editor to turn my story text into the outline form:

:%s/.*/[&]/
%! perl -e 'my $ln = 0; while (<>) { $ln++; print "$ln: $_" }'

That “perl” line calls out to a one line script which adds line numbers to standard input.

Additionally, once the outline text has been added, I performed the following command to strip the original text.

:%s/ \[[^\]]\+\]//

Sketching the Outline

When the text is laid out appropriately, I add outline notes between the line number and the bracketed text. The goal of this outline is to capture the beats in the text – it’s not just relating the story, but how that story is going to be told.

1: Introduce Mary, shepherdess. [Once upon a time, there was a young woman called Mary. She was a shepherdess, which means she spent long periods of time up on the moors away from other people but surrounded by sheep.]
2: Describe how Mary is well-suited to this isolated work and does not care for the villagers. [This suited Mary fine, since she generally found the villagers who owned the sheep to be about as bright as the sheep themselves.]
3: Recount that the villagers reciprocate by not caring for Mary much either. [Despite entrusting their sheep to Mary, her work as a shepherdess was not highly-regarded by the villagers and so they didn't always keep the sheep harnesses in good repair.]
4: Mary had a little lamb. Mention where she got it. [Mary also had one lamb of her own that the blacksmith had given her in lieu of payment for her shepherding. She tried not to play favourites with the sheep (not that the sheep would notice, of course) but she was very fond of this little lamb, who she called Algernon.]

Next time, I’ll write about what I do with the outline once it’s got some content in it.

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2015 Goals Post: Imbolc Edition

This first goals post of 2015 is in that spot where I don’t have solid monthly goals to work towards, because the sabbat goals I set at Yule last year are stale while I omitted to set monthly targets for the annual goals I wrote about in the last Janus post. Still, last year’s goals aren’t that different from this year’s, so I’ll do traffic lights based on the last set of sabbat goals but categorised for the new year’s annual goals.

Traffic Lights

GoalImOsBeMiLuMaSaYu
Finish Song0/3
Complete Shapes1/3
Write every day2/2
Run Hood To Coast4/4

As I’ll explore below, the novel priorities clashed which is why there is one complete fail. I’m guilty here of setting goals that are too ambitious, or at least which didn’t take proper account of how long one of them would take. Aside from that, a pretty solid period.

1. Finish Song

Here is the 2015 plan:

  1. Read second draft – read for readability and typoes.
    Last action: read the draft.
    Doing this is blocked by work on the Shapes outline.
  2. Apply corrections from draft read. Pending completion of step (1)
  3. Give it to my wife to read Pending completion of earlier steps, and depending on her interest.
  4. Revise that second draft Pending completion of earlier steps.
  5. Polish the draft Pending completion of earlier steps.
  6. Make submission materials – synopsis, pitch, hook, and all of that.

Goal Assessment

Goals from Yule 2014 were:

  • review and typo edit second draft manuscript.
  • identify any significant issues with the story.
  • hand it off for first read feedback from my first reader.

Total: didn’t do any of these because I have been working on the Shapes outline (as I’ll discuss next) and I didn’t want to break from that to pick up Song. So, marked as a red, although morally more an unattempted.

Goals for next update: I’m just going to carry the last sabbat’s goals forward, since they are still valid.

  • review and typo edit second draft manuscript.
  • identify any significant issues with the story.
  • hand it off for first read feedback from my first reader.

Metric: Yellow for one or two, green for all three. Not including getting comments back as a goal, since that’s dependent on someone else’s schedule.

And again noting that the second goal there is to identify issues only. Solving them is for later.

2. Complete Shapes

Here is the plan for Shapes:

  1. complete detailed outline
  2. play with some ideas in the outline
  3. complete outline
  4. second draft

Goals Assessment

Goals from Yule 2014 were:

  • complete the detailed outline of the existing text.
  • try out some of the ideas I have for variations in the premise.
  • fill out the outline around the end of the story

Total: I’m about a third of the way through the outlining – it’s much slower work than I expected, making of the order of 2% of progress each day I work on it. The result is valuable I think: I’m getting a detailed feel for the story, and although the compression ratio is not as high as I had hoped (I was looking for a 10:1 manuscript to outline word count ratio but it’s coming in at about 3:1) this outline is going to be much faster to work with for the kind of macro scale plot manipulation I need to do.

But, I didn’t manage to complete any of the goals. I’m going to grade this a yellow because I worked consistently on the outline.

Goals for next update: I’m going to scale these goals back to just completing the outline, since that will probably occupy at least the next three weeks of writing time.

  • complete the detailed outline of the existing text.

Metric: Yellow for substantial progress (up to 75% overall, say), green for actually completing.

3. Write every day

A simple goal which I will undoubtedly make too complicated by over-analysing it.

Goals Assessment
Have I written every day since I set this goal? Not quite – I’ve written something on 20/28 days, which is about 62%. Not amazing, but that is consistent with a five day a week schedule which is at least reasonable. And the days I didn’t touch my writing were generally completely occupied with other things.

I know these facts because I have been consistent in keeping a writing log.

On those two bases, I am giving myself a green.

Goals for next update: same goal, same basic assessment mechanism – keep a log, and make sure that I actually put fingers to keyboard.

4. Run Hood To Coast

Here is the plan for the original goal, although the goal itself has changed:

  1. Shamrock Half Marathon, 15-Mar-2015
  2. weight
  3. speed
  4. Hood to Coast, 28-Aug-2015

Goals Assessment

    • don’t gain weight.
      Achieved – I’m the same weight I was before the holidays. I would be happier if I was actually lighter, but that was not the goal.
    • increase running distance.
      Almost achieved. I’ve run a hilly seven in the last few days, and ended up walking a week’s worth of steps in three days while we were at Disneyland over the weekend, but not quite the 8-10 miles I was hoping for. Part of the issue here has been illness since I’ve had a couple of colds which severely curtailed my running. I will be running nine this next weekend
    • reach 10,000 steps a day.
      Achieved. I walk more than 10,000 steps most days, and at least average 10k a day over the week.
    • continue uninjured.
      Mostly achieved. My ankles and feet are doing fine, but I have tweaked a middle toe which has slowed me down a bit.

Total: 4/4 – green.

Goals for next update: Shamrock is very close. Be ready.

    • maintain weight – losing weight while ramping distance is hard, so my goal for this next period is just o maintain.
    • complete Shamrok training plan.
    • stay on the 10,000 steps a day.
    • continue uninjured.

Metric: yellow for 2-3, green for 4

Extra Stuff

One of the interesting things about maintaining a writing log is that I can see what I am doing when I am not writing the novel. I don’t track time, just things worked on.

Mostly the activities have been the Shapes outline and blog posts, but I did write some roleplaying material for the game I run for my sons. I expect I will do that again, along with picking up A New Dawn again.

Over the next period I will also be doing tax return preparation.

With all of that, there is a short story anthology accepting submissions – I’d like to have a go at it since it’s for a friend’s press, but I don’t generally write short fictiotn at all so I am not sure if it’s something I will be able to make a decent fist of.

No shortage of things to write, anyway.

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