I’m not a particularly deft outliner yet. This organizational experiment is progressing the same way much of my previous writing has moved – like a grizzled prospector pulling the lead of a stubborn donkey. I hope I’m the prospector.
One question I’ve been asking myself – Do discovery writers (pantsers) have an innate ability to tell a story? I don’t have that skill. Were Margaret Atwood and Stephen King born with the understanding of story flow and pace? Did they sell their souls for the talent? King? Maybe. Do they end up with meandering plots and dead-end characters? Not from what I’ve read.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve read so many writers guides and blog posts that I’m not sure where many of the outlining approaches that I’m trying out came from. As I read, I’d jot down intriguing ideas in my notebook but didn’t list the book or the author. Have I mentioned that organization is not my strongest attribute?
This experiment is a loose framework generated from a grocery list of those ideas. At the time, they sounded truthy to me. Hopefully, the mix of ingredients will be an elegant curry instead of lentil and eggplant pizza.
Although the outlining process has been kind of jerky, I feel like I’ve already avoided some of the major troubles that plagued me during the first novel.
Documenting the seven pivotal scenes has proved essential. I know the ending, Y’all! I’m excited because I waffled on the ending for weeks before I finally finished my first book. I know where I’m going and roughly how I’m going to get there. I can see (mind’s eye) the three main acts. It’s exhilarating.
After the key scenes were decided, I fleshed out the antagonist. Doing a full character sketch of the antagonist first revealed that my protagonist was weak. She’s a good character, but there just wouldn’t have been enough conflict. Maybe she’ll be a side character. Since the antagonist was solid with strong motivation, I had to change the protagonist.
I changed the protagonist in my first book after I was already 20,000 words in. The sidekick was WAY more interesting. And guess what – the new protagonist wasn’t a good fit for the antagonist. My main plot was weakened with the new lead and I ended up promoting a side character into another antagonist. I essentially ended up with two main plots that were loosely related. Editing nightmare that’s still looming.
As I continued to do in-depth character sketches for the rest of the characters in the new novel, I thought of more and more amazing scenes and interactions. The subplots started to emerge as wisps of smoke and have slowly become more solid as the character relationships and interactions have formed.
After the character sketches were done, I went back to my seven key scenes. Two of them were too weak and I changed them. Before I wrote them. How amazing is that? I know that this is no major revelation to all of the plotters out there, but it’s been eye-opening for me.
I still feel like I’m pulling on the donkey of the story. There’s a lot of staring at the screen while ideas flow in and out of my brain. Some make it into Scrivner and some blow out like dandelion fluff. I break to do research. How was the Mongol army organized in the 12th century? The research doesn’t stop the flow of the scene I’m writing because I’m not writing it yet. The donkey-pulling was happening all through my first book. My imagination and doubt about the story would cause long pauses – days, sometimes weeks. I can’t say with any certainty that those problems will go away, but the donkey has got the scent of that carrot and is getting ready to start moving.