Friday, February 10, 2023

Karen S. Wiesner: The Ins and Outs of Outlining, Part 3

 Writer's Craft Article by Karen S. Wiesner

The Ins and Outs of Outlining, Part 3

Based on FIRST DRAFT OUTLINE (formerly titled FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS)

This is the final of three posts dealing with outlining.

In the final segment of my outlining series, I offer tips for creating a useful outline that translates into cohesive story building and career momentum.

Tip 1) Creating Story Folders

To get started, always create story folders for every single germ of an idea you have and do this throughout your career. Each time you have something to add, jot down a note and insert it in the folder, thereby building up and developing the story over time and getting it ready to be outlined. In this way, you allow each story to “percolate” on the backburner of your mind over a long period of time, which is absolutely ideal since the more you have to work with, the easier every story will be to work out. Brainstorming for a long time—preferably years—is a proactive way of advancing your story writing and ensuring the future of your career success. Additionally, creating and utilizing story folders throughout your career also allows you to stay focused on current WIPs and not have your brain “divided” by working on more than one project at a time.

When it's time to outline a project, take out you story folder, which should contain a good number of the pieces you've created and will now be puzzled out, developed and adjusted, expanded or cropped until the story is complete, whole and solid. Essentially, you jump in and, in this process that requires endless, productive brainstorming, you work chronologically from the beginning of the book to the end, outlining every single scene.

Tip 2) Brainstorming Continuously

Something I don't think I can ever overemphasize is the vital importance of brainstorming in every stage of your writing to keep your productivity at a pinnacle. Brainstorming is what turns an average story into an extraordinary one. It’s the magical element every writer marvels about in the process of completing a book.

A popular novelist said that for her next book, she was going to hold it inside her until it was like a piece of fruit on a branch bowing almost to the ground it was so ripe. Isn’t that an incredible picture of how a story can grow in our minds until it absolutely has to be written? That’s exactly as it should be (though you can do the same for an idea that’s not ready—it’ll just be a lot harder). Ideally, don’t start your story until you have a lot to work with. The productive writer starts with a solid story that’s ready to drop into her hands like ripe fruit. When I’m working on a project, I try to brainstorming day and night, whatever I do, wherever I am, whenever I possibly can.

Something every author covets is the ability to sit down to a blank screen or page and begin to work immediately. The secret to doing that is brainstorming! When you brainstorm constantly and productively during both the outlining and writing processes, you’ll always be fully prepared to begin working without agonizing over the starting sentences or paragraph. Brainstorming keeps your writing so fresh, you don’t have to worry about getting stuck at any point. It's the secret to avoiding writer's block forever.

Tip 3) Outlining and Writing in Tandem

When I first started outlining, I would inevitably hit a road block working chronologically. Each time it happened, I'd skip around and work on scenes that I knew would come in at some later point in the book, and so the middle and end of the book began to gain structure. As I worked, all my scenes and ideas were expanding in my mind and on the page, taking on layers of richness, complexity and depth. {Note: Very early in my outlining, I used a process I call “outlining and writing in tandem” which was outlining as far as I could go scene by scene in the book. When I hit a roadblock I couldn't seem to get past jumping around in the outline, I would start writing the book at Chapter One, scene 1. Sometimes writing that scene showed me what should happen next in my outline. In that case, I returned to outlining the book as far as I could go from there again. If I hit another roadblock, I’d write the next scene in the book. I always returned to the outlining, if I could, as soon as I wrote a scene because the process of writing exploded and grew the idea in my mind, giving me ideas for how to progress the story from the point I was in outlining it.

My goal, of course, was to finish outlining the book long before I finished writing it. See First Draft Outline for more specifics on the “tandem” writing process. This is something I no longer need to do. I outline a book from start to finish each time. The longer we write, the more books we finish, the easier it should become. We grow more adept in our writing the longer we do it.

Keep working like this, going back and forth, always trying to return to chronological order scene drafting when you can, pushing the storyline forward toward completion, until your outline contains every single scene in the book. Once the outline is complete, take a short break to give yourself a little distance, then read the outline over, filling in any holes. Basically, you're revising the outline in the same way you would a first draft. When you're satisfied that everything is there as it should be, you'll see one irrefutable conclusion: This is unmistakably the first draft of your book because it is your book…condensed. An outline like this is so complete that it contains every single one of your plot threads, unfurled with the correct pacing and the necessary tension, culmination and resolution from beginning to end.

Tip 4) Setting the Stage for Strong Characterization, Plots, and Conflicts in the Outline

Your outline is the place to work out your story settings, plot conflicts, in-depth characterization before starting the actual book. This allows you to focus on scenes that work cohesively together and advance all of these. Additionally, tension, foreshadowing, dialogue, introspection, action, descriptions, etc. can best be done within the outline (without it having to be your best work--just give yourself directions for all of these within the scene you need them in your outline), building strength while adding texture and complexity.

If you know where your story is going before you ever write a word of the first draft (in other words, you've already plotted every single scene of the story from start to finish so you know what's supposed to happen in each one), your story has a firm foundation that supports the framework of your story. You've worked out the kinks in the story in the outline and ensured that the writing and revising will go smoothly and easily. Best of all, what you end up should be utterly solid, requiring only minor editing and polishing to make it publishable. You will almost never have to face a sagging middle, deflated tension, a poorly constructed plot thread or weak characterization again because all those serious problems had been fixed in the outline stage.

Tip 5) Revising Less

You may find this hard to believe, but I discovered yet another cool side effect of using this method. I can now write a full-length novel (based on my first-draft outline) in a month or less, usually, by committing myself to writing two scenes a day. (Obviously shorter works would take even less time than that.) If you write only one, though, you’re still progressing and probably at a faster rate than you would not using the method. Also, because the story is so solid in the outline, revision amounts to removing clutter to make the story understandable, to prevent tripping hazards caused by clumsy prose, and to infuse a story with vivid, interesting narration that says succinctly what it is you want it to say, concurrently bringing the whole story to vibrant life. After my critique partner has gone over the book, a final polish (reading the book off the computer—where I’ll catch more typos) completes the work and gives me confidence that it’s ready to go to my editor.

Most of my editorial revisions are minor common sense suggestions to refine word usage and smooth out the flow of sentences. I can’t remember the last time an editor pointed out a structural issue. I’ve been very fortunate to enjoy both excellent reviews and multiple awards, and a warm reception from readers. Additionally, I’m able to complete more books each year because I use the most effective method for completing each and every projects.

Tip 6) Goal-setting

Once you have that solid outline, you’ll know every single day what you’ll be writing, which has a two-fold perk: You can plan how long it'll take to write the book down to the day (if you have 40 scenes and write 2 a day, it'll take you 20 days to finish the book, right?) and you never have to sit down to a blank page, floundering because you have no idea how to fill it. You know where the story is going and exactly what needs to happen in each scene.

The more efficient you are in the process of writing each book, the more momentum you build in your career because you can offer more high-quality books in less time. The days of an author leisurely writing one book a year to offer to his or her fans are long past. Authors have to offer countless releases every year to compete, especially if they're writing as eires. So writers have to learn how to produce more high-quality books in less time to have anything like a success career these days. The methods contained in my 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection can help you do that without exhausting yourself and ensuring that every single book is the best you can possibly make it.

Karen S. Wiesner is the author of First Draft Outline and Cohesive Story Building

Volumes 1 and 2 of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection

Happy writing!

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series. Visit her here:

1 comment:

  1. "especially if they're writing as eires" -- is there a typo here?