I'm completely chuffed to be hosting a guest post today by Janice Hardy on the subject of outlining.
As you know, I'm a big fan, so this is a pretty awesome moment for me! Welcome Janice, and I hope you all enjoy the post. If you have any questions for her, leave them in the comments. Be sure to visit her blog, if you're not already a follower!
First, here's a little about Blue Fire, Janice's latest release -- second in the Healing Wars Trilogy.
Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.
Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.
Drawing the (Out)Line
When I first started writing, I tried every outlining and plotting technique that came my way. I was convinced that if I found the perfect template, all my plotting problems would be solved. I was wrong, but all that trial and error did help me discover something important.
An outline that worked for me.
It didn’t solve all my plotting problems, but it did make it a lot easier for me to write my novels. I discovered the essential pieces I needed before I put words down, so I didn’t spend as much time spinning my literary wheels. It gave me enough structure to let my stories develop naturally, but didn’t plan so tightly that my creativity stagnated.
Just like not all feedback is going to work for your story, not all outlines are going to work for your writing style. You might not even be an outliner, but a pantser. To find the outline (or not) that works for you, try looking at how you plan your novels, what you need to start them, and what you need to finish them.
How many important events do you like to have before you start?
These are the critical set pieces of your story, then turning points that the rest of the novel hinges on. I need seven before I can do much with a novel. The opening scene, the inciting event, the act one climax, the mid-point reversal, the act two climax, the act three climax, and the novel climax. I may not know exactly how those events are going to play out, and they may change as I write, but I need a basic idea of the overall plot to guide me as I develop my story. Do you like to know just the inciting event? Do you have just two or three big moments? Do you like to know every chapter goal? Every scene goal? This can help determine how tight or loose your outline needs to be.
Do you need to know your character arcs?
Sometimes we don’t know what the plot is, but we know a character needs to undergo certain changes between page one and the end. Those changes happen over time, and that timeframe could be the framework of your novel. You might know your protag needs to be shocked out of her stupor by chapter five, but not know what you’re going to do to her to make that happen. But it gives you a goal to write toward and an outline that works for you.
Do you work off your reveals?
If you’re writing a mystery or thriller, the plot might hinge on when information is revealed. If events need to happen in a certain order, they can guide you through your story. When do clues need to be found? Secrets revealed? Secrets discovered?
Do you have a theme?
Themes are a great unifying structure for outliners and pantser alike. Major thematic elements can guide a story as easily as character goals. What problems best exemplify your theme?
Look at the things you usually know before you write, and then look for the things that stop you writing. Do you often find yourself having to go back and research something? Figure out a major plot point in the same basic area every time? (Like middles bog you down, or that next big moment right after the inciting event) Do you need to work on character arcs before you can move forward? The things that stop you might be things you can add to your outline template. Spend a little more time at the start, and you might not be stopped later.
Putting it all together
You might be the type of writer who needs just one of these, or you might mix and match, knowing a few major plot events, the basic character arc turning point, and the big reveals. You might just know your theme and your protag and run with it. Take a little time to think about how you’ve crafted your novels, what roadblocks you hit and when, and create an outline that addresses those sticking points.
A writer’s process is a personal thing. A cookie-cutter template might not work for you, but it doesn’t take a lot of work to create a guide that fits your style and guides you onward.
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel.
Blue Fire's Online Retailer
The Other Side of the Story Blog.