Monday, April 12, 2010
Writing a Novel: Outlining
I ... am writing a novel.
Of course you knew that if you are reading this post.
I have been writing a novel for probably five years now, going on six this fall. And while I've been writing this novel I've gotten ideas for others, jotted down notes, chapters, brief scenes, etc. But I've never once strayed from this original project.
This project is called Redemption's Journey and will eventually be made up of four novels. It is an epic fantasy series that I have quite a few dreams for.
But it will have to wait.
This spring I set the series aside to work on my novella, The Guardian's Tree. And now, as I await its acceptance for publication, I will begin in the summer a new novel.
Tentative title of course.
Starting a new novel for the first time in five years is scary. I haven't planned out a story since I was ten years old. Ever since then I've been a Seat-of-pants writer running off a loose outline of previous drafts. I hardly remember starting.
But, based on short stories I've written, this novella, and previous novel-start attempts, I am going to become an outline-er. If you are a SOP writer God bless you. But I can write with an outline ten times better than I can without one. Granted, it will be a very loose outline, but guidelines nonetheless.
Thus begins the new blog series and my new novel. Expect infrequent updates on this particular series. It's going to be my go-to series ;)
First thing's first for any writer.
Before any writer can start writing they need a basic, general, idea. This could come in the form of an image, a phrase, a symbol, a character, or something else. Typically this happens in combination. You get an image and a phrase, an image and a character, etc. But you need a basic image. For example, The Guardian's Tree spurred from a symbolic image of a man and a tree. However, getting inspiration is another post altogether.
Next, you look at your basic idea in detail. Here is where I will not tell you what you do...I'll tell you what I am doing for The Fire. Take the idea, and look at it. Look around it. Fast forward in time. Rewind time. Examine in detail your basic idea. For example, for TF I had the idea of people willingly burning themselves. So it was time to ask the questions: Why are they burning themselves? Who is burning? And what is the purpose of the story as a whole.
What I ended up doing was whipping out a piece of paper and writing down everything I knew. This ended up being the climax of the story. I wrote out the setting, the chaos happening in this world, two characters, and the symbolism.
Then I whipped out another sheet and wrote the back story, and the ultimate conclusion.
These two parts were easier for me, because of the symbolism of the story. It had to be a certain way, not much getting around it. But when the reader gets a hold of the story, I will have it planned out that they will not know what has to be until it hits them. So is the plan :P lol
So I have the back story, the climax, and the ending. What comes next? Well, I thought before I started writing the details of the story I better figure out who's perspective it would be from. So I chose two characters, and in doing so added a whole new dimension to the story. At this stage, it was important for me to look at the pasts of the characters and where I saw them going. I got to look at personalities, appearances, etc and all of this based on the original big picture.
At this point, I haven't started outlining the details of the plot. But I imagine I will do the same thing. Start with the big picture, and slowly move inward.
I think that, for this story at least, that is the key and point of outlining. I was inspired by a big image, the people willingly burning....warring wolves....four mountains...etc, and through outlining I am meeting characters and developing the details of the plot. But the whole purpose of the story, using this method, will all be based on that original image--the burning people.
And I think most stories are written like this. The author has one thing in mind and everything in the story leads up to it. Everything in the story happens so that this one scene can. Everything in the LOTR happened for The Return of the King. Everything in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe happened for Aslan to rise again. Whether these scenes were the original idea or a newer one, the story revolved around them.
And I enjoy those stories. And I think it will be easier to write a story like this via outlining. And I think the story will be better for it.
To sum up, here are quick tips on outlining from a newbie:
Start Big: You don't need details until you actually write.
Think All Angles: Plot, character, past, future, etc. But especially the past. I find back stories to drive the main plot easier. The story can write itself with a good back story ;)
Spill Your Guts: Don't hold back! Make like....10 outlines if you have to and choose one or combine them!
What do you think? Do you outline or write from the hip?
To the end,