Outlining

For the last few days, I’ve been plotting my next several projects. Some PMed or left me email, asking about my drafting process, which facilitated this post. I’m working on my second outline out of five, so I expect to be busy for a while.

There is no right way to draft when referring to planning and organization. However, other writers opinions vary. For example, R.J. Blain devised a super organized method if you like journaling on paper. Others use computer solely. (Seriously, go look at R.J.’s method. It helped encourage my current method as a stepping stone.)

I use a mixed method. (My handwriting’s messy.)

 

1: Start with your title, points of view and major plot points. 

You can use a working title until you finish your story, or work with a blank line until everything is figured out. For Turbulence, I used a place marker title called Legend of the Water Viper (and I cringed, looking back). Once I completed the third draft, added Aviere and Travis’ points of view and figured out their goals, the right title came to mind.

Next, I use a separate page to notate the main plot. It’s important to list everything because you’ll see if it makes sense. A good idea may sound nice, but may not work once you see it and run the idea by a few people.

Sometimes, you may not have enough material for a book. If not, save it for a short story or novella later.

For plot points, I use a mixture of characters’ personal development and completing their objectives by the end. Without a plot and character growth, there is no story.

After I know my plot, I go for the POV. Most urban fantasy uses third party POV and when I wrote book one, I didn’t know. Now, I’m stuck using third person, but had incredible feedback from betas on its use. Since it was a toss up between the two main characters, I decided to keep their points of view, adding a third starting in book two. To maintain good quality and true character voices, I think hard about who I’m showcasing in each book.

 

#2: Start drafting your outline.

You should have listed your plot points in chronological order, or else you’ve created more work.

Despite outlining everything, I don’t follow my outline 100% because the story will change when drafting. Sometimes, I don’t account for one consequence from a previous chapter and it changed how the character would handle said situation later in the story. Sometimes, character development changed as I drafted. The biggest reason I don’t follow it all the time lies with tying scenes together to create a powerful message to the reader.

If you don’t follow it 100%, don’t beat yourself up. Every author I know deviated at one point or another.

Follow your plot points and keep your characters goals in mind. The key to a well balanced story is integrating personal growth while moving the plot and keeping your readers engaged.

 

#3: Research before you start writing.

Readers like to imagine things to a point, but can tell when an author doesn’t know their stuff. Even something small, such as medical equipment, locations, cultural things or cars should be portrayed accurately. If you don’t, you risk losing creditably with readers.  You can’t get them back once this occurs.

Readers relate to realistic characters, no matter what genre. You have some wiggle room in urban fantasy and paranormal stories (cause let’s face it, you don’t see witches, mages and weres running around every day) but this doesn’t entitle you to be asinine.

If your character is shot, stabbed, sick or emotional, there’s consequences. If they break the law, they’ll get caught somehow. Everyone has a weakness—sometimes more than one. It could be a character flaw they’ve yet to overcome while another could be physical and out of their control, but they push through anyway. People RELATE to someone they understand, like and want to root for.

Think of Batman, Darth Vader, Green Arrow or the vast cast of Game of Thrones. Why do you like certain characters? Probably for the same reason they do—their flaws and their ambitions, even if they’re villains. It makes them interesting.

When you create your villain, they should have the same goal as the main character with a different end result if they succeed. (Best example: Batman vs. Joker.) For my first series, both characters want a world without war. While the main characters work for the villian’s organization charged with protecting most factions, the villain uses them as pieces towards his solution: lasting piece Hitler style. (Not the concentration camps, but keeping those worthy and killing off the “sinners” with an incurable plague.) Once he acquired his pawns, the main characters unknowingly stumble upon his plot with each book as they fulfill their personal goals and job assignments.

It took quite a few outlines to figure it out, but became easier once I knew what I wanted at each point in the series.

 

#4: Once you’re done, assess the overall outline and nitpick if it’s not working.

I cannot tell you how many times I rewrote my first outline. I’ve had varying reasons from lack of balance and motivation to not having a definitive villain. My fourth outline finally had one, which changed the direction of the entire series.

If something doesn’t work, don’t get discouraged. It’ll change as you go. For those who think you’re wasting time—you’re not. You’re spending time crafting a story or series with continuity. Your readers will thank you once they start reading and see you took your time to craft their entertaining world.

 

#5: Rinse, lather and repeat.

I do this with every project because I tried writing by the seat of my pants and came out with verbal diarrhea. I’m not sure I have Turbulence’s first three drafts, but it didn’t have continuity or a purpose. After the fourth outline, rewriting it and two rounds of hard editing, the manuscript was accepted for traditional publication.

Outlines are easier because I can pick up where I left off if I work on something else for a little while.

 

#6: Make a file for everything in one place.

I have one Scrivener file for my entire universe, because there are over 100 characters. Not all are featured, but it’s good material for other stories later. I have one for my short stories I’ll be doing as an anthology and also with other series I’ve contemplated.

 

BONUS: REFERENCES

One of my go-to references is The Writers Guide to Character Traits by Linda Edelstein. The author explained how to character build using different kinds of people, from psychological and demographic background to physical traits. I liked it so much, I bought the real edition AND the Kindle one.

Another good set of books are the The Positive and Negative Trait Thesauruses, The Emotion Thesaurus and the Emotion Amplifiers by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. They’re more for in your manuscript descriptions, but you can use them to help character build too.

For plot outlining, I used a mixture of feedback and R.J. Blain’s Story Bible method.

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