I’m just over 2/3 of the way through my work in progress now and driving toward the conclusion. Over the last 110,000 words, however, I’ve departed significantly from my initial outline, so I need to take stock and make sure I can bring my characters’ various storylines to the right place at the right time to set up my conclusion. To tackle this, and a few other issues that I’ve noticed in my writing, I’ve started re-outlining the remaining chapters.
Killing Birds with Stones is Inefficient: Use Grapeshot
I’ve learned a lot of things about my outlining process since the initial 14,000 word rambling heap of, uh, words, that I put together before starting my narrative. Mostly, I learned that previous document was worthless. About the only thing I’ve salvaged from it, as my characters wandered farther and farther off their predestined plotlines, is the rotation of viewpoint characters and significant events. Even that detail has varied quite a bit. Here’s what the old one looked like:
- Location: Tower in the woods
- Viewpoint Character: Baric
- Other Characters: Guard 1, Corporal, Sergeant, Archer 1
- Pace/Emotion: High/High
- Summary: Baric is guarding an unused tower as part of a training exercise. Osir was supposed to attack, but Baric has been waiting a week with no progress. Transition from suspense/ boredom to battle from commander’s perspective. Baric beats back the attack only after figuring out the trick at the last minute.
- Intros: Baric, Osir (indirectly)
This was the outline for chapter 1, as originally written. By the time I actually wrote the chapter, Baric lost the battle, but that wasn’t even one of the significant problems. The “Location” lacked any description, the “characters” list lacked names that would be necessary in the text, the pace and emotion were useless descriptors, the summary didn’t consider any essential parts of the scene (opening, major events, hook), and the intros failed to provide any information on the person being introduced. Fail.
Incremental Correction is for Marksmen
When I was training in rifle marksmanship, our mantra was “correct small, miss small.” Basically, make a series of small corrections and see how they work out. It’s a fine way to attack a paper target that isn’t shooting back, but it’s not for me. (I never earned my rifle marksmanship ribbon.)
For my new outline style, I’m trying to compensate for all the previous version’s failings at once. I have not redone the outline for chapter one yet- and the chapters I have “redone” never appeared in the original outline, but here’s a randomly selected chapter for the purposes of comparison:
- Perspective: Anne
- Other Important Characters: Emily, Finch, Wittle
- Location: A lean-to by the side of the road, poorly concealed in the brush along a deer run. The forest is primarily pine but the nearby bushes contain witches finger and king’s bane, as well as cats-eye flowers. The woods are noisy as night falls, with bird calls and wind blowing the bushes.
- Description of new characters:
- Finch: He is one of Krayne’s old band. A small, thin man who dresses all in browns, including his leathers. He is not much of a fighter, though he can use a bow well, and usually was used to acquire information. He has a broad jaw and a fetching smile, but has suffered a festering arrow wound to his leg that keeps him from smiling. Tries to charm the girls. He is also one of Hauke’s spies.
- Description of Wittle: Slow-witted (Finch calls him witless), but a big man. He was also wounded, and has arrows broken off in his back, but was carrying Finch until they ran out of strength. They were going to try to reach the apothecary. He wears a leather vest that is much too small for him, and a helmet strapped to his head, that he forgets to take off. Giant, clumsy hands, but helpful with reaching things.
- Emily wants to put her training to use to help the men and is interested in success
- Anne wants to hide who they are while finding out about as much about the men as possible
- Finch wants the girls to heal him and get him back to the army and also to secure their services. He also wants to bed Anne.
- Wittle wants to get back to the army and get some food, but can’t hunt.
- Open: Spot men along road and hide
- Action: Approach men, talk briefly, survey wounds then go to find herbs. Emily wants to help, but Anne is cautious and wants to flee. Return to treat men. Anne makes crutch using Finch’s handaxe and he gives it to her, offers to teach her to throw it as part of his flirtation.
- Close: Get Finch up and moving on a crutch and head to camp.
Although this is a relatively concise example, in terms of the “action” section, I’ve gone into a lot more detail here. It takes more time, the chapter I’ve written from the new outline style has a lot of the description that was missing from my previous writing. So far, I haven’t lost my way in mid-scene and rambled on for 5000 words, as happened in one scene that was poorly outlined under the previous scheme, either. I’ll have to keep massaging the outline as I learn its shortcomings, but I’m happy with it so far. It makes my planning personality work harder so that my writer can flow. Even if it takes a lot longer to churn out, it’s worth the time to add to the quality of the final product.
What do you put in your outlines?
I’d love to hear what other people put in their scene outlines in the comments below!