I never used to be an outliner. The most I probably did was sketch out a couple vague scenes I really wanted to write and figure out my main characters before I started NaNo or any project. But after 11 years of doing NaNo and about 20 years writing total, I’ve got to admit that not having an outline screws me every time.
I get distracted. I get bored. I get stuck. Those guys are the wretches and goblins that work so hard to keep me from achieving my goals. So instead of getting overwhelmed by them, I’ve started to fight back with an outline.
Honestly, it shouldn’t have taken me this long to realize that’s what I need. I use an outline at work all the time. That one tends to be a running list of things that need to be done during my eight-hour shift, but it’s an outline none the less and it keeps me on track when phone calls, customers, and unexpected side missions happen. Because they always happen.
So, my outlining method is pretty malleable. I’m still figuring out what works because each project has different needs and so do I on different days.
This NaNo I am using a note card ring for a lot of my outlining, you’ll remember this picture from my last post:
I’ve been getting my note cards written out and in order, and so far this is what I have for each chapter:
- Complete list of characters
- Complete list of places
- Short background bio on each character
- Defining characteristics of locations, history tidbits tied to it, etc.
- General summary of each chapter
- Key scenes
- Emotional journey in the chapter
- Information on key objects pertaining to chapter events
This is enough to give me an idea of where I’m going in each chapter, and I add as little or as much information to each thing as I feel I need. I like to have some room to improvise if the mood strikes me, but I also need a general line of sight to keep my goal in view to avoid following tangents into the wild blue yonder.
I also did note cards for the following:
- Defining events
- Histories and world building notes
- Checks and balances
- Beginning, Middle, End
- Overall summary
Out of all these, I think the checks and balances cards are the most important for me. My world has magic so I need clear rules of what magic can do and what it can’t do so I don’t stray off into the realm of Deux ex Machina midway through November. The second most important would be the Beginning, Middle, and End, which gives a framework to where the story is actually going.
I don’t treat any of my note cards as written in stone unless it’s a fundamental foundation of my worldbuilding. I keep myself open to inspiration and allow certain changes during the writing process because sometimes the best ideas happen when you’re in the thick of it all. Outlines are more guidelines, after all.