Finding an Outline Plan that Works

I’ve been working on a couple of interesting outlining ideas for The Light Never Lies and they’ve really paid off in terms of word output – I managed almost 3000 words yesterday and if even every second word of that is usable, I’m pleased by the outcome.

A couple of days ago, I took twenty sheets of blank paper and cut them all in half so I had a stack of forty pieces of paper. I went for forty because I think the book will have about forty chapters (mostly based on the fact that Disappearing in Plain Sight was that long). I then dug out a few packages of sticky notes in two colours – bright yellow for current action and a lime green for back story. I started writing action segments on the sticky notes and putting them onto the chapter pages.

This task was fairly straightforward for the first ten chapters of the book – the first draft of these chapters are already written. Chapters eleven through thirteen were sketchier but still doable. I can see that far ahead to where the story is going.

After Chapter thirteen, I had to switch gears and move to the bottom of the pile of chapter papers to fill in stickie notes for the last four chapters – these aren’t written yet but were pretty easy to outline. I’ve known how the book would end for a while now.

That left me with quite a stack of blank pages to cover the middle of the novel. So, I just started brainstorming every idea I could come up with for action scenes, descriptions, and back story, writing each idea onto a sticky note and placing it at random on the leftover pages. The time will come to arrange the ideas in some kind of storied order. The most important thing now is to have a sense of what the action could be. And naturally, the more I write and think about the characters, the more connections I make related to how they interact with one another. The characters definitely begin to drive the action of the story and I need to leave space for that to happen.

The other thing I have been working on are drawings for the layout of certain settings in the novel. By no means to scale (my architectural design trained husband would double over laughing looking at these sketches) – but they give me a spatial understanding of how characters can move around the settings and what they might see in a given location.

I learned something important writing and editing Disappearing in Plain Sight. Well, I actually learned several things but in the interest of brevity, let me stay on track here. I created elaborate back stories for every one of the characters in that book and wrote endless notes and descriptions of the various settings. What I didn’t realize then, was that only a fraction of that stuff would ever find its way into the finished novel. I’m glad to have learned that reality. I think it will make it easier to distinguish, in subsequent drafts of this newest novel, what really needs to be cut. Parts of the story are written for me so I can continue to explore the characters and allow them to move the action of the story forward. This is a necessary process for the author but not something readers need not be subjected to. What is it Stephen King says – first draft minus 10% = finished draft.