Outlining is the devil.
At least, I used to think that way. And right now, when I’m only 14 chapters into a 26 chapter novel outline, I still think it’s the devil.
(Why can’t outlines just write themselves and make perfect sense and have time flow properly?)
Yet, I understand the reasons why outlining is important to the writing process. Of course, not every author has to religiously outline their works *cough*GRR Martin*cough* but I have witnessed the transformation of my own writing as I began to understand the process of outlining and plotting, and implement it into my own works.
For example, when I used to just write and write and write with only a vague idea of an ending in mind, I would end up with stories that should have only been 20k-30k and they end up at 60k-80k and those extra 40k-50k words are pointless and dragging to the plot. It was never fun to reread those stories because I would become annoyed with myself. When I began to outline, however, I had more focus to my stories and they ended up flowing far better. And when I began to outline chapter by chapter for long stories, I eliminated most of my continuity errors, something I was incredibly guilty of whenever I wrote in the past. And those stories are still fun to read back over to this day.
The purpose of today’s blog is to share a little about my writing process. For the most part, creation is very intimate and personal for me, so I tend to do everything myself until right at the end.
Here’s a ten step description of the way I write.
Step 1: The Idea
My ideas come in different ways. Sometimes a dream, sometimes a person or event in real life inspires me, sometimes it’s been inspired by another story, sometimes I’ve been mulling over potential ideas for some time. However the idea comes, that is the first step. Fleshing it out and designing characters and developing the premise.
Step 1.5: Worldbuilding or research
This isn’t its own step simply because concocting ideas usually translates to research or worldbuilding for me. I transform ideas from a thought into a potential story through the process of creating a world, characters, and researching everything I need to know to write a complex, enthralling story with a realistic, or detailed created, world. Round, complex characters are the most important aspect of storytelling for me, and if it’s fantasy or sci-fi, creating a detailed world is essential to a good story experience.
Step 2: The beginning, the conflict, the ending
A to B is the most common, linear way of telling a story. This is Step 2. Deciding how my story will begin, how it will end, what the complications and conflicts are, and how they interact with the overall story. Will it be linear? Will it jump all over the place? Will there be multiple conflicts? Will there be a plot twist? I need to have this in my mind before I can begin detailing the plot. If I don’t know where I’m going, and what’s stopping me from getting there, then I can’t create a plot.
Step 3: The dot-point plot
Exactly what it sounds like: a dot-point list of the major events in my story from start to finish. This only includes important events. Any fluff or filler sections are not included in this step of the outline, but come into the detailed outline.
Step 3.5: Dividing the dot points into chapters
This is its own half step because sometimes I do this as I go. Currently with Silk Sheets, because the chapters alternate between the two main characters, I was able to divide the events between them and therefore the chapters as I went along with the dot-point plan. Other times, that approach doesn’t work for me so I divide it into chapters after I’ve finished the dot-points.
Step 4: The detailed chapter-by-chapter outline including timelines, locations, and events.
My detailed chapter plans look a little something like this (depending on what I am writing but this is the primary way I do it):
Step 5: First draft time!
And now it’s time to write! Yes! Usually throughout the rest of this process I’ve been having ideas, especially during the detailed planning time, and so I will usually have a word document or a Scrivener section devoted to these ideas that I have drafted. Sometimes I use them as is, sometimes I edit them heavily, and sometimes I discard them, it all depends on how the story is coming together. Primarily aside from the above, I write linearly, following my plan, noting any changes as I go. This is honestly my favourite part of the entire process, just allowing my imagination to run off and do what it does best: weave me a wonderful little story (or not so little, as the case may be).
Step 6: Print and read and edit
Fun’s over. It’s time to print the entire thing off because I edit best with a pen and paper in front of me. I have different coloured pens I use for editing:
- Red is for typos, grammar mistakes, spelling errors etc.
- Dark blue is for word choices that I don’t like, paragraphs that need rearranging or shortening or lengthening, and any other larger construction issues
- Dark green is for continuity issues, issues with how time passes within the story, timeline related decisions
- Different coloured pens for main character issues (one colour for each character, for Silk Sheets, Augustus is light green and Jamie is light blue) – making sure their character is consistent. Should they be doing something different? Does their dialogue make sense? Should I change something about them? All of those kinds of things
- Purple is for plot related issues
- Pink is for any characters other than main characters who need fixing up, any dialogue I want to edit, and basically anything that isn’t covered by the other colours listed above.
Step 7: Second draft
Once I’ve finished my first edit, I go through and make the changes I decided upon. This is still within the intimate, personal stage of drafting and writing my story. The next step is when it’s time for me to let go of my personal attachment to the story.
Step 8: Ask other people to read
It’s time to let other people read my work. I try to make sure it’s not a lot. Usually 3-7 people, sometimes up to ten if I’m feeling really unsure about things. I usually make a google doc and invite them all to read and leave comments for typos, continuity errors, things they don’t like, does a section seem to drag, should there be more information about something or other, those kinds of things. I have them both Alpha and Beta read the story and make their notes on anything they think should change.
I also use this time to do another read through myself and make the same kind of notes I did on the first read.
Step 9: Final version
I make all of the final changes that I decide will work. I take in everybody’s feedback, compile it with my own and make my decisions. Sometimes during this stage I’ll send people one chapter, or half a chapter where I have made a big change and ask if they like that version better or not. Either way, this is going to be the final draft so it has to be perfect.
Step 10: Final proof read
Once I’ve decided on the final draft I do another proof read (or three) to catch any remaining typos and grammar issues. This is the curse of self-publishing, it’s easier for spelling issues to fall through the cracks so I try to catch as many as possible. If I’m still worried I might ask somebody else to comb through with me but mostly I undertake this final proof read alone.
And, voila! It is complete. Time to share, or as it was for Paper Flowers, design the cover and all of the media and prepare it for release. When Silk Sheets is finished, the same thing will happen. My friend Hannah, who is a photographer and graphic designer, and I will work out a cover and some media posts to advertise together, and then it’ll be time to prepare it for Kindle and paperback release. But, essentially, at this point the writing process is finished and the publishing/sharing process is being undertaken.
And that’s it, that’s basically my writing process. You can take it as something to try out if you’re a person who struggles with your writing process, or maybe just take it as some insight into the way I develop my stories and why my writing process seems to take quite some time.
Thanks for joining in for my Wednesday blog. Next post will be Saturday and hopefully I’ll be finished my outline for Silk Sheets by then and I’ll be buzzed by finally being able to start my first draft. I have two uni assessments I need to work on at the moment so I’m trying to balance the outlining and assessments, but it’s hard when I have so much in my head for Augustus and Jamie. I’ll get there.
Have a lovely day/night!