Outlines Are Hard And Maybe Not For Me
It was a resounding failure. I spent the first two weeks (maybe week and a half) very focused upon writing every day, even if it was just the words “fuck, now what?” a few dozen times. I managed to hit around 5000 words before I began to peter out, and shortly after 6000 words, I stopped altogether. Admittedly, I’ve never even made it this far, so the fact that I put the effort in so pointedly is laudable (I choose to laud myself, at least). I need to work a bit more on my focus and planning, which is difficult when you’re unemployed and stressed about entering true adulthood (if that even exists). However, motivation and dedication are always hard, no matter what point of your life you’re at.
But enough of my self pity, I can work on that by myself. So here are a few thoughts and excerpts of what I’ve written.
So first off, I began this story not with an outline, but with an idea for a scene. I tend to visualize moments throughout the story. I think that (like most writing methods) this “connect the dots” style approach can work very well, and up until now it certainly has worked well for me – in shorter forms.
And Novels… novels are long. Long is hard. To write, I mean.
I began with a simple idea: A pair of snipers are stuck in a duel, both are a single sneeze away from a swift death. As the two begin to zero in on their opponent, a butterfly comes between them, reminding one (the PoV character) of a childhood long ago. Her opponent has a similar reaction, but spends a second too long watching the insect, and pays with his life. It is loosely based upon this comic I came across a long time ago.
Here’s a short excerpt from my Nano effort:
dust and ash filled the air in brief puffs of wind. Her eye was set upon her quarry, she had precious few moments to decide if it was a misshapen branch she had settled her eyes upon, or a slender arm. This branch/arm seemed to sway in the breeze in time with the other branches… She held her breath a moment longer.
A flicker of color in front of her rifle nearly broke her concentration. A drop of pale blue from the sky, struggling with the wind. A butterfly. It was fast, one of the new breeds. It bounced about as often as it flickered, like a hummingbird or a dragonfly. She blocked it from her mind. The elbow/stick hadn’t shifted since the wind died down. Katja stared at the spot, trying to trace the outline of a person.
“Could someone fit there? I’ve fit in worse positions… and I was still pretty damn accurate… Maybe if that tree there has a chunk missing…” She thought to herself.
I’m rather proud of this bit, and the entire scene came rather naturally. I had the entire scene plotted out for me, really, which made for easy writing. I could spend more time focusing upon the tone, the setting, language itself.
Once I reached the end of this scene, I came across a problem: I have no idea what to do next. I (theoretically) could wax poetic about a “butterfly” in a post apocalyptic (spoilers?) world for 49,000 more words, but that isn’t really what I want for this novel.
I decided (perhaps in an effort to “ground” the novel) that my character would return to a home-base of sorts. I settled on a city within a crater, occupied by military power and non-combatants alike. In hindsight, I feel this comes off as a very “Teen lit” concept, which wouldn’t be bad if I went in wanting to write that. But by the end, it just didn’t feel cohesive.
My next plot idea was that eventually, she would discover that the man she killed was an “innocent” (though still shot at her?) man from a different compound/society/whatever, and his death would lead to a conflict between them. It was here that I realized that I would need to plan and outline a bit more of how I wanted the escalation and drama to arise:
Chapter 1 – Katja is in the midst of a sniper fight and wins, she takes devices/pictures etc from dead man
Chapter 2 – Katja returns to her city, hands off the devices, and rests (exposition here, maybe split>2?)
Chapter 3 – Katja walks around the city visiting advisers and gathering resources for the fight ahead
Chapter 4 – The dead man’s country makes contact through the device, storm brews
Chapter 5 – Katja wakes to find her city under attack by spies, she nearly kills them all but is stopped
Chapter 6 – Katja admits her fear and inability to lead the way she feels she should
Chapter 7 – Katja is sent to parlay and give herself up to the invading country
Chapter 8 – ?????
Now, as I haven’t found many examples of novel outlining online, I don’t have much to compare this to. I personally see this outline as rather simple, and vague. I think it’s not a bad effort, and gets the points that I really want, but it feels overly simple, like less of an outline for writing and more of a summary you’d find on wikipedia or imdb. maybe effective, but for myself I found it lacking, and even confusing after a certain point.
Since this is essentially a first draft of the outline, the points began to confuse a bit. Ch3 mentions the “fight ahead,” yet she shouldn’t be aware of the fight until ch 4 at bare minimum, since she won’t know for sure what’s going on with the man till contact is made.
Then the outline fades out. “Admits her fear?” “Sent to parlay?” There is a lot of purpose and direction missing from the later bits. At this point I have a handful of enjoyable scenes and settings, but there’s no real direction for it to go towards other than “They fight and it’s cool.” Which is a fine point to head towards, but lacking for my own tastes.
For your information, I only made it as far as halfway through chapter five, which means at about 1000 words a chapter, I would have needed to become exceptionally verbose to make this outline work into a full novel.
If I had to give myself one piece of advice for next year (fingers crossed for success) I’d say I should start with more than just a single scene plotted out, so there are actually dots to connect. At bare minimum, I should have a beginning and an end in mind.
These are a few of the thoughts and comments I’ve had for myself, but don’t misunderstand, I’m very proud of my progress and what I’ve written, I just need to get better at self accountability and planning. I may need that in more than just my writing life, but that’s getting a bit personal, and that should wait for at least my 4th blog post.
If you’ve stuck around to read, thank you very much, I hope you enjoyed and have gotten thoughts for yourself. If you skipped to the end, that’s alright, I’m just judging you.