By Josi S. Kilpack
I am a sloppy writer. I write, cut, paste, cut some more, go off on tangents, cut again, add characters, take out characters, add characters back in and then change my mind. At any given time my current WIP is an absolute mess. Unlike a lot of writers, I also edit as I go. If I know a plot element has changed it it like a rock in my shoe to keep writing without fixing it. I know many writers say that you can't edit and write at the same time. Not so for me, I can't write without editing and even though my WIP is a mess, and I know it's a mess, if there are specific elements screaming at me I go back and fix them, adjust the story from that point forward and eventually get back to writing new stuff. Now, I'm not recommending you do something like that--it's really quite neurotic--but the point is that it works for me. And I hope this post will be taken in that spirit--this is what is working for me right now in regard to outlining. Maybe it will work for you, or maybe parts of it will work. I will admit that I borrow this heavily from Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake method. If you're unfamiliar with the method of organizing, I suggest you read up on it in detail. It's very easy to follow and by far the best method I have ever used.
For my outline I start a new document with the title of my book abbreviated and the word snowflake. So, my current outline is BC snowflake.doc Which is then kept in my Blackberry Crumble folder in Word along with BC cuts.doc, Blackberry Crumble book.doc, BC notes.doc etc. Once I'm staring at this blank page I do the following:
Step 1) Summarize your book into one sentence (get ideas at the NY Times bestsellers list) **This is a great way to remind yourself about the book. Instead of it being about "A seventeen year old girl who discovers a secret passageway to an unknown world full of dark creatures determined to take over satellite TV, hypnotize the world and cause them to kill one another after they steal all natural resources from the earth." You say "A teenage girl must protect earth's natural resources and in the process save the world." That's probably not the best way to say it, but you get the idea. One sentence.
Step 2) Expand your single sentence to a paragraph that explains story set up, main conflicts, and end. This will sound similar to a back cover but will probably give more details than a typical backcover would since it's purpose is not to market the book.
Step 3) Write out your character's stories (and I borrow these 100% from Randy Ingermanson). I'm a big believer in the fact that characterization makes up most of your plot--how people react and what they will do to protect those things or people most important to them is what drives a story forward. Therefore, knowing THEIR stories will help the plot fall into place. I have the following details I fill out for each of my important characters:
- The character's name
- A one-sentence summary of the character's storyline
- The character's motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?)
- The character's goal (what does he/she want concretely?)
- The character's conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
- The character's epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?
- A one-paragraph summary of the character's storyline
This is as far as I've gotten in the Snowflake Method because by the time I have written out my characters stories, I pretty much know what the overall story is. I might come back to this and adjust it later, or I might never look at it again because the story is rolling and I don't need this anymore. For me, this has become a good generator for ideas and plot. There's a chance that half way through the book I might scrap everything I've determined and take a whole new direction, but that's a good thing and I can still thank this process for having gotten me going in the first place.
I also find this type of exercise very helpful when I'm stuck on my story. I can spend my writing time developing my characters and their stories in hopes of getting an idea for my overall plot.