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Feb 10, 2009

Two Things I've Learned About Outlining

Break out your violins, cause I'm gonna wail and whine.

I was supposed spend this month finishing my Mother of All Outlines. Instead, I did the usual shoddy-bum half-baked outline I usually do and then immediately snuck off to continue writing on Book II.

Now, I had an excuse. (Naturally.) Each book has a number of story threads, which follow different PoV characters and eventually meet up somewhere in the book. One of these threads, for every book, is not like the others. It's usually a series of events from the past. In Book I, a thread follows the mysterious Corn Maiden. In Book II, there's a thread which follows Mayara, an Aelfae orphan whose whole family is murdered by humans, and who is then taken in by humans who don't realize she's fae.

Since these threads are in the past, they are out of chronological sync with the rest of the series. When I write them, however, it's easier to do it in chronological order -- so I like to write the whole sequence as a set piece, which I then divide and distribute to the proper chapters.

I did write a shallow outline, which still manages to be more detailed than my previous outlines. I even included some dialogue.

But I learned I need to include two important things right there in the outline, if this detailed "phrase" outline system is going to work for me.

One: Characters.

Who is in the scene? This seems like a no-brainer. How can I have dialogue if I don't know who's talking? But I don't mean the main characters. I know who the PoV character is going to be, but sometimes there are also bit players present, doing things, and I need to figure out who these guys are at the outline stage.

Two: Setting.

Again, I know generally where the scene is taking place. What I need are the specifics. Inside or outside? In whose room, by which rock?

* * *

These still aren't things I'm used to thinking about during the outlining stage.


Example:

My outline phrase: Mayara watches her whole family slaughtered by humans.

My realization when I went to write the scene: Who is she with -- mother, father? Where is she compared to her family -- i.e. she must be close enough to watch, but far away enough she herself isn't killed. Are her family members given names or just called "her family"?

My draft:

“Give me your wings,” her mommy said. “I’ll bury them.”

Mayara wasn’t sure what to do. Her wings were part of her – they grew from her back. How could she give them up, even if she wanted to, any more than she could take off her arms or her legs?

“Hurry!” Mommy kept looking back over her shoulder. The forest beyond the cave looked innocent enough, but Mayara could hear the war cries of humans climbing the slope, out of sight. Hu, hu, hu! they shouted in the distance, to the beat of drums.

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