February 20, 2012

Outlining: Start Big and Work Down to the Details

This week, I will (hopefully) be working on the outline for my WIP. So how do I start? Well, first, I answer these three questions:

1. What does the protagonist want?
2. What does the antagonist want?

The answers to these should naturally be at odds with each other. Each of their goals, independent of each other, can be as innocuous or grand as you want so long as they conflict.

3. How does the book end? (the climax)

Yep, I like to know how the book will end before I start outlining. Keep in mind, by this point, I'll have already finished world-building and character sheets. I'll also have jotted down a jumbled mess of ideas for scenes, how something might happen or questions for something that needs to happen, snippets of dialogue, character arcs, and what not--all of which are dependent upon knowing what my protag+antag want and where the book needs to go.

So, really, it's more just reorganizing those thoughts into something linear and coherent, because those questions will have already been answered in the plotting and world-building stage.

Some writers, pantsers and plotters alike, prefer to write without knowing how events will play out, instead letting their characters guide them. I'm not one of those =P With my first manuscript, I started writing not knowing how it would end or where it was going, and as noted in a previous post, it took me a year and a half to fix the mess.

It's essential for me to know how the story ends, because I use it to build the rest of the book. Every action and every piece of information must have a purpose—everything must work together to move the characters toward that end so that, when the plot twists happen and the climax settles, the reader will sit back and go 'I didn't see that coming... but I should have!'

However, even though I know how it ends, I don't yet know HOW the characters or the story led to it. Right now, I have a vague image in my head of the ending scene for this WIP, as well as some pieces of dialogue and character motivations, but that's about it. And for now, that's all I need.

So! I start by answering those 3 vital pieces of information. Once that's done, then I determine another piece—the reversal.

Within each scene, within every step forward into the story, there should ideally be some sort of minor reversal—conflict, questions, roadblocks popping up to impede your protag and maintain tension. But the one I'm talking about is the BIG one. It's not the climax, but it's something that completely upsets the hero's world thus far, something that either forces them to change or alters their goal.

To figure out what this should be, I answer these questions:

1. What does the protag believe s/he has to do in order to achieve her goal?
2. What does the antag do to completely ruin it?
(in most instances, this would coincide with the antag's goal as well)

The reversal is the point in the story when the protag believes s/he's almost achieved his/her goal, only to come up against a brick wall and must now back up and regroup.

Example: when Frodo completes his task to deliver the ring to Rivendell and finds himself with an even greater and more treacherous journey to undertake. Or when Will Grayson (lowercase will) goes to [SPOILER!SPOILER!] meet his online boyfriend in person and is devastated to learn he was never real, resulting in crossing paths with the other Will and the life altering entity that is Tiny Cooper.

As I said in a previous post, an outline is a map. Having answered all the questions above, I now know where my final destination is and what stops I need to make along the way. All that's left is to plot my route, to figure out how to get from point A to point B to point C. This is where I start filling in details and fleshing out the world, when I REALLY get to play with the ideas I first jotted down while world building.

And this is also where I totally confuse you guys—the details can and will change your ending and/or reversal. And that's okay! The point is that you started with a plan. How things happen, why they happen, and character arcs along the way—these things SHOULD affect the overall story and major plot points.

But to find those details and really make them work for the story, I first have to start with the bigger picture.

So there you have it. That's how I outline and, hopefully, that's what I will be doing this week.

If you catch me on tumblr, please yell at me!

Today's art: Edward Elric from Full Metal Alchemist.

Have a great week! ♥

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