All, so I have embarked on a new trilogy as discussed in the last post.
Something I promised a long time ago was that I would discuss my writer’s journey as it unfolds. Well, something I learned back during my first trilogy was that before you do squat you need to have a coherent outline. Pictured above is a real outline of a book that I have completed. Using just those skeletal prompts pictured, I write entire novels.
This approach may not work for you, but it works for me. I guess the broader point is that if you want to write a book, you need some form of plan.
It doesn’t have to be an outline. It doesn’t have to have any type of formal shape. It just needs to be.
A plan. Without one you are probably whistling Dixie.
OK, so here’s what I do. I learned this from a master, and from the professional reading he assigned me. It works very, very well, and I really don’t know what I did before I learned the THREE ACT STRUCTURE.
In a nut shell, here’s what it is.
Opening Image. The world before the story begins.
Theme stated. What is this story about
Set up. Hero at home, at work, at play.
Catalyst- set things into motion.
Debate- Hero doubts.
Act II (Twice the size of Act I or III)
Break into two. Hero must make a choice to step into II. Now or never.
Fun and games. Explore new worlds. Promise of the premise.
Midpoint. Stakes raised. False victory, defeat. Time clock. Pace accelerates.
Bad guys close in. Hero team issues or bad guy threats.
All is lost.
Dark night of the soul. “Whiff of death.”
Break into three. Hero steps up and goes all the way.
Finale. Final exam. Does hero learn lessons.
Gather team, load up.
Storm the castle.
Execute new plan.
Final image- the world after. Cocoon- butterflies.
At the top of my outline segments, I leave the “beats” that a given act must fulfill at the top as a reminder. It is not a slavish guide, and I frequently diverge from the outline if I sense that the flow or structure needs something. Seriously, though, my two sentence blurbs turn into about 2k-2.5k chapters. This is how I roll.
But before I set a single word onto the manuscript, I MAKE AN OUTLINE!
The outline is the skeleton. It forms a frame upon which you hang all the squishy bits. There is a reason that most higher life forms have a skeleton- those stony, hard bits protect the nerve bundles and jelly stuff that makes you, you.
Trust me, you need a skeleton.
Now, as I said, your skeleton can look vastly different from mine. What would work well (and I should experiment with this) would be a white board with sticky notes; but because I’m a boring, stuck in my ways type, I like a column of ideas arrayed in a linear fashion upon a Word doc.
As I said, whatever works for you. But please, learn from my experience and make the outline in whatever form. My first book had some mistakes I could have avoided if I would have simply followed this basic step.
So that’s what I’m up to right now- I’m doing something familiar (making an outline), but I’m doing it in such a way that is entirely new.
What do I mean.
I’m making an outline, all at once, for a new trilogy. About 120 planned chapters, and I have to make it all work within a given structure.
Curious how this works. Should be OK, but I don’t know.
Something I run up against all the time is I make a chapter outline, and then I think “Those two sentences sum this up. How can I expand this without putting my readers to sleep?”
Kinda having this now with this mega outline. I know where I want to go with the trilogy, what terrain I’d like to cover. But there are important questions.
Who are my enemies? My friends? How do the circumstances shape my characters, what drives them forward? How do they live, and how do they die?
All of these are questions that need answered.
The answers lie in the outline.
Once that’s done, all I have to do is write.