How to Write a Novel in Six Months, Week 6: Outlining
Now's the time in the novel writing journey where I start to get really nervous. I stare at my stack of index cards terrified that what I've written are nothing more than a collection of stupid ideas that will never come together into a coherent outline. Okay - now that that's out...
The way I approached my outline was to transfer my index cards onto a spreadsheet. I know, but I really love spreadsheets. You could do it in a word processing program, by hand, or just keep it on the index cards - whatever works for you. I like spreadsheets because I can see everything all all at once more or less and I'm still able to move things around. You can also use the section sheets that Evan Marshall developed and presents in his book, The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. I just need to see everything all together without having to flip through pages of notes.
The Marshall Plan
I have mentioned The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing before, and it was actually one of the first books I ever read on writing. I have to admit, I may not have gone back to it if not for a good friend of mine who's on this journey with me and using it with great success. After breaking down and buying a copy, I remembered why I had liked it so well in the first place. In truth there's very little actual plotting information in the book, but what is there is substantive and Marshall also provides a lot of great writing advice too.
Once I started poking around, I decided to go ahead and attempt four viewpoint characters as Marshall suggests for my word count (100,000 words/mainstream fiction). I had been planning to stick with one viewpoint character, but what the heck. I always enjoy books with multiple viewpoints. If it doesn't work out I can always cut it back to the main character, but I think it would be really difficult to add viewpoints after outlining.
Marshall goes into a lot of detail with his outlining technique (using section sheets) and I'll get into that in the next article, Week 7: Detail Scene Beats.
In case you wonder how I set up my spreadsheet, it's pretty simple. I have one row to represent each scene (or section as Evan Marshall refers to them), so 80 numbered rows. Then I have columns for viewpoint character, setting, goal, result, and a few notes to remind me what is taking place during the scene. There's more, but I'll get into that later.
The neat thing about the structure we learned about earlier is that now I can plug that into my spreadsheet too. So I have another column with headings like ‘call to adventure', ‘crossing the 1st threshold', and ‘approach inmost cave'. These sound completely cheesey if you haven't read Vogler's book, but they make sense to me. Whatever labels your structure uses, plug them in at the right place. That is the skeleton of your main character's story arc. Of course you have all these plot points already jotted down index cards so at this point it's just a matter of shuffling and filling in the blanks.
Then I used Marshall's guidelines on weaving in other viewpoint characters and the lead's subplot. It may seem formulaic, but every decision that was made for me made outlining easier.
Warning: My initial plan was getting all hosed around during this process - or so I thought. I started to panic because things weren't going as I had planned at the initial stages. However, when I look back, the story is essentially the same, but now it's fuller and more cohesive. By no means is it complete, but each process I'm doing is another layer.
Just wait until you see how bad I freak when it comes time to draft!
Week 6, Outlining
Week 7, Detail Scene Beats
Week 8, Writing the Synopsis
Weeks 9 - 18, Drafting Updates
Week 19, Sanity Break
Week 20, Transitions
Week 21, Reading the Draft
Weeks 22 - 24 First Revision
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