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Writing an outline

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I’ve decided to write an outline for my next book.


It’s a weird feeling. Usually i just dive headfirst into a novel, emotions in front, ready to do battle. That approach has served me well. I’ve gotten three books out of it, books I like, books I’m proud of. 



So why the outline?


Because I’m tackling something new: science fiction.

I wrote a short story based on a concept I learned about in an astronomy class I was auditing at U of T and I loved the idea so much I knew I had to make it into something bigger. But the thing about science fiction is that it requires…science. And to make my science fiction even remotely scientific, I need to do some research. Also, because my story will be set in a time that is beyond ours it requires a little world building. I’m working from the outside with this concept because it’s an idea about the universe itself, not about a single character, which is my usual approach.

I have to say I’m a little bit intimidated by the idea of the outline. It makes writing a book seem more like work. I write outlines for corporate clients, web videos and projects. I know when I finally sit down with it I’ll get into it and things will be fine, but right now it just seems liked a daunting proposition.

So why do I feel as though writing should be a purely emotional pursuit? It seems like a foolishly romantic notion: this idea that I should be some poet in a coffee shop spilling my guts in a moleskin notebook. It’s also unrealistic; I like structure, order and a good understanding of my direction in life—so why shouldn’t I like it in my writing?

Maybe I think an outline will restrict me. But it would be an imaginary restriction, because if I make it, I can destroy it. Maybe I think it will be too formal, that I will get bored of it if I have my whole path charted for me. Maybe I think writing is more exciting when it’s a mystery. But if that were true then I wouldn’t need to know the ending before I start a story…and I always know the ending before I start.

So where is the resistance coming from?


Writing a new genre is daunting, I’ve only written two or three pure science fiction stories before. Writing in a new format is daunting too. An outline is a new skill that I have yet to master.

But ultimately I think it will be good for me. The fear of trying new things has never stopped me before.

So watch your back outline…I’m coming for you.


P.S. Any tips or hints on good ways to outline a novel would be appreciated. If you have any just drop them in the comments section!

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Don’t settle

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Ben and I had a great idea for a book a little while ago.  It seemed like it would be perfect, right up my alley.  We decided we would make a plan for it, unlike the last book which was a bit of a free-for-all, so we sat down and worked it out.

We figured out the whole story, plotted the chapters and I was completely, terribly uninspired.  It was confusing, because the concept was interesting, the characters were compelling, but my my interest in the book was painfully flat.  I hated it.

There’s something about making a plan that makes me feel like I ought to like what I’m doing.  Like I would be a flake if I just called a timeout and changed horses mid-stream.  It’s a weird feeling.  I guess it’s partially to do with the investment of time, we spent a great deal of time coming up with the story, discussing it, being excited about it.  But as the idea of actually writing the damn thing drew near, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

In the end I finally said ‘I hate it’ out loud and we gave it up, put it aside.  Maybe I’ll like it in the future, who knows?

When I’d finally accepted the fact that I didn’t give a fig about the book I was going to write, Ben and I went for a walk on the beach and worked out a new book in about half an hour and I was instantly inspired to go home and start writing.  I am now ten thousand words in and going strong.

The point is sometimes things don’t fit and here’s a solid piece of advice that can be applied to absolutely every aspect of like (including writing): don’t settle.  A story should reach out and grab you, bite you, shake you, gnaw at you in the night.  I always say to Ben that I know it’s a good story when I get up in the morning and don’t want to go back to sleep because there’s too much to write.  Writing should propel you, inspire you, make you cry and laugh and all those good things about living.  If your story isn’t doing it for you, don’t force it.  No matter how much time you invested in the outline or world or making a new language for the alien species on your world it doesn’t matter because it will feel flat and lifeless unless you love it with a passion.

I want to write things that I can’t wait to write more of, that I need to write, that I love to write and I’m not willing to settle for anything less.

Screw settling, write it like you mean it!

Tell me about a time when you refused to settle.

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How I plan

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The truth is, I’m not much of a planner.

I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda gal.

I think I’m too impatient for planning most of the time and sometimes it’s gotten me into trouble, other times it’s led me on the greatest adventures of my life.  I flew to England a while back with the single goal of going to Stonehenge for the summer solstice and the rest I left up to the winds of fate.  I ended up living in Brighton, making friends and hitchhiking around Europe.  Hooray for no plans.

When it comes to writing I have difficulty planning as well.  Having a vague idea for a story constitutes a plan for me.

My most recent completed novel (in beta reading now) started out as an idea and I didn’t really start plotting until later when events unfolded that needed to be explored.  It was an adventure to be sure, but still a little unnerving as it left me wondering, is this going to work?  As it turned out it did (at least Ben and I think so, we’ll see what other people have to say), but after that writing free-for-all I thought it might be a good idea to try the next book with an actual, full out plan.
Ben and I started that process yesterday.  After a bumpy start (sitting there staring at each other), we went for a walk (apparently the only way we can actually think) and worked out some ideas.

So here’s how the planning is going so far:

Step 1: Idea – the idea for the book came from a short story I wrote (which is how it seems to go for me) and I told Ben.  Ben said…‘hmmm…interesting….’ and off we went.

Step 2: How to plan as we’ve never officially done this we had to work out how to plan, which basically consisted of a discussion about the best way to approach the idea.

Step 3: Characters/research – as many of the characters are based on gods of various pantheons we had to do some research, so we spent some time on good old Wikipedia.

Step 4: Define characters – as this more of a character study than an adventure, the characters seemed more important than the plot.  The plan is to create the plot around the characters but first they all need names, backstory etc…

Step 5: Define the world – as the world has limitations we needed to make some decisions about what it is and how it operates.

Some basic ideas about all of the above is as far as we’ve gotten, but it seems to be going well.  The next steps will involve plotting and more fleshing out of the backstories so that they connect with the main plot and create a little drama.

Ben is perfect for me for a million reasons and one of them happens to be that he loves plotting and planning stuff like this.  We’re essentially planning the story like it’s a D&D game, but instead of playing it, I’ll be writing it.  Personally, I love the writing part most, making the words go together and sound beautiful and interesting and meaningful.  I like to live in the now, minute by minute.  He’s a bigger picture kind of guy which works for me perfectly, because without him, I’d probably just write a lot of rambling novels.

So planning.  I’m still trying to work it out, but it seems to be going well and I know the more we plan now, the smoother the process of writing will be and that will make it even more fun in the long run.

How do you plan?  Have any hints or tricks you use to plan effectively?

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!