Yesterday I opened the blog for questions, and one of our readers asked something that we Dames thought would make a great blog post.
Thank you, Cassie for asking us this: “To any/all Dames: how loosely/tightly do you outline a project, and do you have any outlining tips?”
Jenna Black: “For me, it depends on the book. Sometimes (though rarely, these days), I have no outline at all. Sometimes I have the major plot points figured out but don’t know what comes in between. (I call those my connect-the-dots projects.) I almost never have a detailed scene-by-scene outline, but in my most recent release, THE GIFTED DEAD, I actually had the whole thing planned out to that level of detail. With that book I kind of had to because I had intertwining plot lines from seven different point-of-view characters and wouldn’t have been able to keep things straight without the outline. For me, no one method works for every book, so I’ve got to be ready to adapt.
I write exclusively* using Scrivener for Windows these days. The program makes it really easy (from a logistical standpoint) to create my outlines and brainstorm.
*note: The very basic first brainstorming (the coming up with the idea part) is pen and paper for me too. It’s just that once I actually get to the plotting, I go to Scrivener. I used to do index cards, but I find the virtual ones easier to juggle and view all at once.”
Rachel Vincent: “I do plot, and fairly heavily, but I don’t really plot by chapter. I plot by individual plot points, because I ALWAYS underestimate how many chapters I’ll need, and what’ll fit into each chapter. And with my dual POV books, that’s all especially important, because the structure is a little more rigid.
Karen Mahoney: “I am probably the Odd Dame Out when it comes to outlining, as it’s something I’ve only really started to do for the last couple of books I’ve worked on. My pre-writing happens in the form of brainstorming with pen-and-paper, thinking mostly about character, motivation, wants, needs… The story takes shape from those things, mostly, and in the past I have just jumped in with hardly any actual ‘plot points’ planned out. e.g. THE IRON WITCH was written after a ton of mythology and folklore reading; some character brainstorming; a bit of worldbuilding; and then… just FIVE main scenes that I knew I wanted to write. However, I have found that it’s getting harder to write so loosely. Certainly, working on revisions and rewrites enough times has taught me that I need to think about PLOT upfront more than I usually do. (I find it easier to ‘outline’ while rewriting, actually. The rough draft is down, then I sort of ‘reverse-outline’ to see what I’ve got before moving things around.)
In an effort to tackle my most recent project – a book that has a strong historical element, and two timelines (contemporary and 1920s) – I did turn to Scrivener for the first time. Unlike Devon, however, I didn’t love the virtual corkboard. I ended up using actual index cards, with different colours representing the different timelines. I think having something more tactile helped…”
Jackie Kessler: “For me, it depends on the project. Some books, I have a skeletal outline so that I know where the story is going (that’s what I’ve got right now for my MFA thesis project). Other books, I do a detailed chapter outline. And sometimes, I just pants the heck out of it and see where it goes. For this current project, it’s a very, very loose outline — I have the gist of the goal, motivation, conflict and the most basic structure/plot. I sort of know what happens at point A, and I’m sure I know what will happen by point Z. But getting there? Heh. We’ll see…
Oh, and tips: Don’t fight yourself. It’s okay if your process is different for every book. If you feel like you need a full synopsis before you can get cracking, then write the synopsis. If you’re hip-deep in a scene even if you don’t know how it will relate to the main story, finish that scene. Striving for perfection in a draft is possible, but it may cause much second-guessing and delay-of-game.”
–There you have it, Cassie! Outlining with the Dames. Thanks for the question, and remember, we’re ALWAYS happy to get questions and will do our best to answer them in a timely fashion.