Writing Wednesdays: Outlines

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There was a time when I hated the idea of outlines. Surely, writing is an organic process, and will come out all in the right order because of my natural talent. Right? Right?

Then I realized that a project I had been tinkering on on and off for years, that I thought was fairly well developed on paper because it is in my head, had five different beginnings and had never even heard of such a thing as a middle.

So, outlines.

I’m still trying to work out the best outlining process for me. I write out detailed character and worldbuilding information, but plot is always hard for me, and its especially difficult to set it all down in something approaching order, even if I give myself permission to change that order. But one of the best things I have ever discovered is the power of the notecard and the empty wall.

I love it in detective stories when they make the evidence wall–you know, all those newspaper clippings and photographs and bits of paper, all connected with colored string. I’m not generally a very visual thinker, but I love the way those storyboards work, so why couldn’t I make it work for me?

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This is the wall (OK, doors), for the Big Project. What I ended up doing is writing down all the different scenes I wanted to include, in what mostly works out to chapter increments (I didn’t intend that, but writing it down made me see the shape of things). Then I put them in the order I envision. And because of my problem with endless beginings, I made sure to split them into three distinct sections, so that I can start to see an arc. But because it’s just tape and cards, I can do any shifting I have to. On the other side of the wall are important characters, lines I want to remember verbatim, and bits of worldbuilding. It’s like a big old Pinterest board right in my spare room. (I also have discovered the joy of Pinterest- less for outlining, more for inspiration boards.)

Next time, I think I need to get colored index cards.

There are all kinds of ways to outline. So far, this one really seems to be working for me, but I definitely want to experiment more. What are your preferred ways of outlining? Do you stick to it, or do you tear it all to shreds by the end?

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