How I’m re-learning outlining

I’m, by my very sporadic and impulsive nature, a pantser.

It started back, probably, when I was playing RPGs with my family as a tabletop gamer. See, you’d come into a game and stuff would happen and story would be instantly created from those reactions. Role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons were my first foray into making my own stories and so from there I began to write stories from an instinctive place.

This worked fine for the little fanfictions that I would create in middle school and high school but when it came to actually trying to get through a big project, this method has, sadly, failed me.

Yet, I’m not ready to say that I’m an outliner yet…more like, I’ve figured out how to be a Tailored Pantser. I still get a thrill from creating a story out of instinct and don’t really find outlines to be more than just the barest of lines in the shifting sands of my imaginary beach, the waves of my impulses and story sense rewriting whatever I have plotted for the future of my protagonist.

With that said, I have discovered that Deborah Chester’s book on the Fantasy Fiction Formula has completely changed the way I look at stories and outlining. (You can check out her book HERE on amazon.)┬áSpecifically, her SPOOC method of story mapping has been insanely helpful and it’s what I’m going to talk about here today. If you want more than the brief summary that I’m going through, I highly recommend buying her book as it’s been a god sent to fixing my tension and conflicts.

So, let’s take a quick walk through her suggestions so that you can see what I’ve been doing to prepare for my 52 Week Short Story Challenge for 2017.

This is specifically for short stories mind you, but it can be expanded for novels.

First, I decide what my basic idea or story question is for the project.

I’ll take a prompt from the /r/WritingPrompts to begin our question:

“You join a pantheon of the Gods, only it’s just like being at entry level in a corporation.”

Cool. We have our ‘idea’. Now we need to know the following things so that we can begin to map a story. Specifically, we need Situation, our Protagonist, our Objective, aka what we’re trying to achieve, our Opponent and finally our Crisis.

For this story I’d probably map it out as the following:

S: When she was added into the Greek Pantheon

P: Agave

O: Knew she wanted to become a goddess of farming so she can restore her war torn home

But

O: When her supervisor Demeter finds out that she is in love with one of her favorite nymphs

C: can she keep her own life from turning into another tragedy.

Now, this isn’t specifically an outline per say, but it’s a start of what you’re going to going for in terms of a map. You still need to figure out your story beats, aka, the scenes where Agave tries and fails. You’ll need to flesh out characters and make sense of exactly what level of power all the gods and goddesses have. BUT at least now you have determined your opponent and have someone for your protagonist to struggle against.

I find that if I at least know what the struggle is, I can get at least build from there.

I am currently creating a ‘SPOOC’ outline for all 52 of my short stories I’m planning for next year so I can at least have something to follow when it comes to my insane 1 story a week challenge. I get the creativity of running through conflicts and major events with the help of the ‘SPOOC’ to remind me of what my stakes are and remind me of the goal I’m trying to achieve.

Let me know if this is helpful to anyone. And good luck with mapping out your stories.

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Your Manuscript is a Hawt Mess

Yesterday was a fantastic day for me.

I got up, wrote my way through my current action scene and started the end of Act I of my current manuscript. It felt glorious. I’ve been in the middle of this particular action scene for, oh, weeks. I might have gotten through it sooner but as I generally only have 1 hour a day set aside for writing and working on this book most of the time, I just had to keep pecking at it until I’d failed in enough ways to find the best way to approach it.

This method is very effective for me. However, it leaves a trail of broken paragraphs, half-finished and discarded scenes and general mayhem behind me.

So today, I’m combing through the manuscript that I have and storing all my non-connecting scenes in my ‘scraps’ bin that I keep with all my projects and just focusing on the manuscript flowing smoothly from point A to point B behind me. This is not an edit people. This is still drafting for me. However, if I get tied up later when I’m down by point J, I can go back and skim through what I’m keeping of point H,G, and I to identify where I went off track.

It’s a messy method of novel writing. I have started outlining….sort of.

I am calling it a Tailored Pantsing approach.

In normal pantsing I’d write several hundred unconnected pages without any care for how they all stitch together, then go through in my Editing phase with scissors and a red marker, linking and stitching my novel back together. Then I’d do about a dozen more edits to complete the book.

However I still can’t hold too closely to a tight outline. I feel strangled if all my steps are laid out so cleanly. Instead, I’ve drawn a sort of map that the story is going to follow.

So I have a chart: Opening/Hook -> Inciting Incident -> Act Two with x event and so on until I’ve reached the end.

Now instead of just writing twelve random scenes, I’m writing twelve versions of the scene that I need and then tossing the other 11 into the scrap pile a lot sooner and moving on.

The feeling of trailblazing that I love in writing is still there, but I’m not dangling from cliffs anymore.

All first drafts are gross messes though. We make typos and we accidentally forget that we gave our main protagonist a gun the scene before and heck, novels are long and holding such a detailed story in your head for an hour a day over the course of months is tricky. But here we are, machetes in hand, ready to take it on anyway.