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Changing Perspective: An Outlining Revelation

I experienced a “eureka!” moment recently in regards to outlining, and I’d love to share it with you:

My outlines tend to falter, especially towards the end of books, because I’m not approaching them from the right perspective.

Have you ever played a video game where you can tilt your user perspective? You can watch like a distant god, peering from up high across all creation, or come down to character level and move throughout the game as if you were walking the land yourself.

When I outline, I tend to be at sky-level. Like a puppeteer, I’m peering down into my stage and figuring out how to move my marionettes around. Or like a Chessmaster examining my board and calculating where each piece will end up. I’m very good at technical outlining; I love charts, and diagrams, and color coded maps.

But all that organization and plotting and calculating so frequently fails me. I get to a scene and realize I have no idea why my character would want to make the move I envisioned for them, and suddenly my whole plot falls apart.

Why is that?

Continue reading “Changing Perspective: An Outlining Revelation”

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Outlining (The Hardest Work)

My agent proposed turning three Antebellum books into one book (and eventually changing the name). Instead of charging in there and starting to cut and edit, I decided to do a complete outline of the new book.

One month later, I was still floundering.

Then, my good friend sjmaas insisted I set a deadline to complete the outline, and stick to it (she did hers in two full days *shake fist*). Will I make the deadline? Probably not. Did I learn some valuable lessons? Hell yeah.

Lesson 1: Don’t stop reading!

Recently I realized that I’d pretty much quit reading, period. I hadn’t even realized that I’d fallen off the reading wagon until I went to a family reunion in New York and used my Nook on the plane (I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). At first the experience was crazy strange. I hadn’t read for pleasure in so long that I was having a hard time immersing myself in another world. I was hyper-conscious of the words on the page, like I was studying individual brushstrokes instead of seeing the whole painting.

That showed me how out of it I was.

Since then I’ve returned to the old, good habits: reading whenever I have a spare second. Thankfully I was gifted with a Nook earlier this year, and I haul it everywhere with me. I even read in the car at stoplights. (Right now I”m 1/4 way through Stephen King’s It. Reading It has been on my ‘Life To Do’ list for a while, so I’m thrilled).

Reading fiction is the surest way I know to jump-start my internal creativity. I can’t believe I ever stopped.

Lesson 2: Don’t stop brainstorming with CP’s!

I entered into the Outlining process alone, and for some reason I thought I had to keep at it alone. I forgot to reach out to my writer friend and CP’s to brainstorm and bounce ideas off them. Finally I broke down one night and asked my friend katzhang if I could discuss an idea with her… that led to another breakthrough in my story re-write, and showed me that I was seriously doing myself a disfavor by trying to come up with ideas all on my lonesome.

Lesson 3: Scribbling is helpful! For some reason I thought that Outlining as an activity was restricted to coming up with plot points and writing them down. This in itself has proven to be very difficult, and I found it was a lot easier to figure out how events would tie together if I scribbled down really, REALLY rough versions of scenes.

Writing the story down as I’ll eventually have to for-real write it showed me the path of emotions in my characters and made coming up with the following even a hundred times easier. Now I keep a notebook with me by my laptop so I can start sketching out scenes and speeches, which get condensed down into just a few sentences in the outline, but those are really important sentences.


Now that I’ve recorded those thoughts, I’ve got to dive back into it and make some more progress. I think I’ll start off with a little more notebook doodling…