So, the panic is starting to set in. Book 7 of the Allie Beckstrom series is due in about five weeks, and I am not at all where I want to be word-wise. Hopefully, this weekend will get me caught up.
I tell people I outline–just one quick sentence for each chapter to show:
1. Main conflict of chapter
2. Main action of chapter
3. Character emotional state/change
4. Rising conflict into next chapter
5. Stuff I need to remember/plot lines I’m threading forward
For example, here’s what I wrote for chapter one of book six, MAGIC ON THE HUNT (if you’ve read the excerpt at the end of MAGIC AT THE GATE, this won’t be a spoiler. If you haven’t, you might want to scroll down.)
Happy Allie and Zay at her place. Dane walks in with gun and goons.
That covers the first six pages of chapter one. The other seventeen pages of chapter one is me working that event to its conclusion. Since I knew what was going to happen (who would do what, and what information would be revealed in the chapter) I didn’t bother writing it down.
Which sounds like a pretty haphazard way of recording things. But it isn’t. And here’s why.
I pre-outline. This is the step after brainstorming and before actual outlining.
Hold on. I think I need to back up.
I guess step one for me is brainstorming:
I sit around and make notes about what has happened in past books, what needs to happen, what each character wants to happen, and what my end goals for the characters and books are going to be. That’s all stuff for the big series arc. For the one-book arc, I also work out what the main conflict will be in this book, which characters will need to deal with the conflict, and how that will change them (keeping in mind the big series arc) and how it will move them and the big arc forward. I also decide on the ending of this one book.
Then my brilliant first reader, Dean (who happens to be my brother) shows up, and we drink a lot of coffee and discuss the books and toss wild ideas at each other and poke holes in the big-arc plot and the current book plot arc. I always acknowledge my first readers in my books because, people, they are INVALUABLE to me. I am so glad I have someone who will take the time to listen to me blather and “what if” about Allie and her crew. I am even luckier to have someone who will throw other fantastic “what if’s” and ideas back at me. My first readers rock. (Dean rocks for not only first reading, but also brainstorming with me.)
Step two is pre-outlining/scenes and events:
This is where I take all my notes from brainstorming along with new ideas that have come to me since the brainstorming, and start building a list of scenes and events that need to happen. Some of those scenes will fit in this book. Some will be held for later books. Some will never come to fruition. No, I’m not sure which scenes will fall into which category. A lot of this is done on gut instinct and an ear to the ground for story telling and the emotional arc of the big series plot. (i.e. I simply begin and adjust as needed. Writing is often a leap of faith. I leap.)
Step three is outlining:
I take a blank piece of legal paper and number the lines from 1-20 because I like the tidy idea of a book fitting into twenty chapters (even though that rarely works out, lol.) Each chapter gets a one-line description. I almost always have chapters one through ten or twelve worked out, then a sort of vague idea of the next couple chapters, and then chapters eighteen, nineteen and twenty worked out.
As I’m writing the book, I glance ahead at the one-line descriptions to make sure I’m setting things up for the next conflict or set of actions. This is also part of what keeps me going. I get excited about writing the next funny scene, or getting to have a favorite character on stage, or tackling an upcoming tricky fight.
But writing is a fluid craft for me. As the story actually hits the page, things change, better ideas show up, old plot threads get tied down, or tangle in interesting ways. I am not so married to my outline that I’ll throw out a good idea simply because I didn’t think of it while I was in brainstorming, pre-outlining, or outlining stage.
Which means I break the details of my outline while I’m writing the book all the time. Sometimes I even break the one-book plot arc, though I never change the ending. This is just how it works for me. I don’t have any idea if other people do it this way.
When the book/chapters are no longer lining up to the outline, I stop and readjust the outline. It’s only one line per chapter, so it’s not like I’m redrafting thousands of words. Usually all I do is cross out a word and add another, or draw arrows to rearrange how the action is really lining up in the written version. And, as always, the ending chapter/scene always remains the same.
Eventually, I’ll get tired of the messy paper, and type the outline into my computer and make adjustments there as I go.
And that brings me to today. Time to finish adjusting the outline and get a chapter or two written. It’s also time to brew coffee and pour myself a nice big cup, because one thing I know for sure: coffee and a steadily growing word count always work to keep the deadline panic away. 😉