Writer's Craft Article by Karen S. Wiesner
The Ins and Outs of Outlining. Part 2
Based on FIRST DRAFT OUTLINE (formerly titled FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS)
This is the second of three posts dealing with outlining.
In Part 1 of this article, we talked in-depth about how a complete outline that you write before your first draft of any story will contain everything your book will, only in a much more condensed snapshot. A “first draft” outline is equivalent to the first draft of a manuscript because it has everything your manuscript will. Writing your book based on an outline this complete might almost make you feel like you’re cheating, because the writing process should be simplicity itself. The clearer a writer’s vision of the story before the actual writing, the more fleshed out, cohesive, and solid the story will be once it makes it to an actual first draft.
My book First Draft Outline (formerly titled First Draft in 30 Days) goes in-depth about outlining and goal setting. The follow-up title, Cohesive Story Building, focuses on writing in stages and story building with multiple layers that mean strength and cohesion for your book. If you write one draft and revise that, you only have two layers. That's why just jumping into the story without an outline doesn't produce the same results or complexity. With the kind of layering I talk about in Cohesive Story Building, a story is three-dimensional, strong, realistic and richly textured. When these two writing reference manuals are used together, your writing process can become a well-oiled machine focused on productivity, high-quality, and unending momentum. These references contain the secrets of how I became so prolific. Between these two books, I cover every single stage of writing a book in-depth and step-by-step, so each aspect is detailed from start to finish.
In the ideal writing situation, a book goes through eleven stages (though the last two are optional, which I’ll explain later). These are the layers that build texturally complex stories and characters and they include:
Stage 1: Brainstorming
Stage 2: Researching
Stage 3: Outlining
Stage 4: Setting aside the project
Stage 5: Writing the first draft
Stage 6: Setting aside
Stage 7: Revising
Stage 8: Setting aside (and, while sitting, critique partners are going over it)
Stage 9: (after I get it back from critique partners) Editing and polishing
Stage 10: Setting aside
Stage 11: Final read-through
You’ll notice that three of the stages are about “setting the story aside”. I believe a book is best if you give it time to breathe between the stages. Letting your projects sit for a couple of weeks—or even months—in-between stages will provide you with a completely fresh perspective. All writers get too close to their stories. Distance gives you objectivity and the ability to read your own work so you can progress further with it.
Another reason for setting projects aside between stages is that writers always reach a point where their motivation runs out, and they may simply want to get away from the story as fast as they can. Who wants to write a book you’ve just spent weeks or even months outlining? Who would want to revise a book you’ve spent weeks or months writing? With every single book, I get to rock bottom and I’m convinced that if I ever see the manuscript again, I’ll tear it to shreds. Setting it aside between the various stages the project goes through really gives me back my motivation for it. I’m always amazed at how much better I can face the project again when I haven’t seen it for a couple weeks or even months. I fall in love with it again. The next stage in the process becomes easier, too, and that helps my writing to be much better. When working in stages, each step is a layer that’s added to the book, a layer that makes it stronger, richer, and more cohesive--and realistically three-dimensional.
One final reason for working in stages is that I’m able to start brainstorming on upcoming projects sometimes years in advance. When it’s time to work on that project, I have a ton of ideas and the motivation to get them down and that carries me through the outlining. Because I’ve always got multiple books going at one time—each one in a different stage of the process—I’m constantly brainstorming on these projects in the back of my mind. That’s so crucial to the overall strength of your stories and for the momentum of your career. Working in stages is the absolute height of productivity. I can't imagine how to do it any other way and still continue to write solid novels and meet all my deadlines.
When I started out, I was a seat of the pants writer all the way and I wrote about 12 drafts of every single book to get a single one that was decent. So I had to figure out how to do this more productively, especially after I got published. I think my books teach the most effective ways of getting from A to Z in writing and also planning a successful career in writing.
I'm a strong believer in never doing more work than you need to. In the beginning, you might need to fill out endless worksheets and checklists because that's the best way to learn how to develop your story. But you should only ever do what you feel benefits you and your story. The point of all writing methods is to find out how you work best—take what you can, discard the rest. Creating an outline in whatever form that gives you the strongest guide for writing you novel is a crucial layer in developing every single story. If you want to see an example of how I write in stages throughout every given year, check out my Works in Progress page here: https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/works-in-progress.html
In the last part of this article, I'll provide tips for creating a useful outline that translates into cohesive story building and career momentum.
Karen S. Wiesner is the author of First Draft Outline and Cohesive Story Building
Volumes 1 and 2 of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection
Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.
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