This post is for Denise, and for everybody else who's ever asked me about my outlining fetish.
Whenever I start a new book-length project, I've gotta have me a big fat outline. I don't know if it's a strength or a weakness, but I like to have the bulk of my thinking done before I sit down to write. But no, I don't sit down and write a hundred page outline just off the top of my head, the behemeth grows in stages, in kind of ever-expanding layers.
I take a notebook (yep, still do it longhand) and write the central concept/story idea on the first page. That usually takes a paragraph to half a page. Then I expand on it, basically writing like a four or five page synopsis of the plot, and just so you know, everything's fluid at this point. This stuff always changes dramatically -- I'll get better ideas or realize something is either too cliche' or just plain doesn't work. Point is: you've gotta have something to start with.
So after I have my four page synopsis, that's when I really have to put on the breaks. Until a few books back, my characters were always thin and wimpy and tasted like sawdust. So now I practically write their entire life's stories BEFORE I move into the main outlining phase. That way I know who they don't like and what they're keeping secret, and how they'll react to the things that are gonna happen. Having a firm and intimate idea of who each of my characters are helps me grow the plot around them, to allow it to be shaped by their personalities and decisions. This kind of stuff usually fills twenty-plus pages.
Kay, nuff on that. My kids are gonna get off the bus pretty soon.
So here we are: we know what's gonna happen in the story and we know what kind of people it's gonna happen to. And this, my friends, is the moment I live for -- the entire reason I write. This is where we get to make a story.
I basically do it with a bullet list. Nerdy, right?
I list every single thing that's gonna happen, in fairly strict detail, leaving about four blank lines between items. For a 200 page book , this outline will fill an entire section of a three subject notebook, for a large book (like Fiersom's Brood), it eats the whole dang thing. Here's an example of what my outline entries might look like:
-- When Biff gets back to the mansion, he finds that the whole staff is gone for the day (Buffy sent them home early then took Biff jr. to the zoo)
-- Biff gets excited and goes to his special closet where he hides all his gangsta duds. Then he cranks up the stereo and starts practicing the Soulja Boy dance.
-- Satan appears in the mirror. "Your soul is mine, bud."
So this little bit right here would probably translate into a two to five page scene, depending on how the conversation goes. Yes, I do put dialogue in my outline. Usually it's not something that's gonna be copied verbatim into the book, though, it's just meant to be representative of the conversation.
Alrighty then. The last thing I'm gonna mention is the spaces between entries, and you know what they're for, right? That's where the coffee stains go. And all the freaking inevitable changes. All of the things I forgot. Notes on plot twists. Sometimes even sketches. Let's just say, yeah, they get filled, and yeah, it looks like crap. But it makes writing the first draft very very easy. What I've got at this point is something very close to a screenplay, and all I've got to do is novelize it. Easy-peasy. I have never -- not once in my life -- experienced anything even remotely close to 'writer's block', and I can usually write about 60-80 pages a week, and I think it's because, like I said, most of my thinking is already done.
Once I'm done with my massive outline, writing my book becomes a matter of putting frosting on cake. (note: my outlining process takes one week, two if I'm lazy)
So now you tell me. How much work do y'all do before you start writing?