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Friday, June 3, 2011

The Mighty Outline

Questions I get from people a lot are "Do you outline?" and "How do you outline?" I was trying to think of ways to show people, but I didn't know how to use books I published or planned to publish because I didn't want to give away spoilers in the outline.

But I finally figured out a way to do it. I'm using an unfinished book I wrote called Reckless Abandon. It's not very good, and it's insanely long. I was a little over half-way through with it when I quit, and it was 114,000 words. (In comparison, Switched is just under 80,000 words). I also realized it was boring and nothing happened.

I did quite enjoy the writing of it, though, and it was a good exercise. According to my notes, I started writing it back in 2008, before I wrote My Blood Approves or any of the Trylle Trilogy. I'm scanned my outline and the notes I made, and I'm going to show you the first couple pages of the book, too, so you get an idea of how translates.

You'll have to click on the pictures to see them at full size, because I didn't want this blog to be ridiculously long.

Without further ado, here begins my notes for Reckless Abandon.

These are the very first notes I had on the book, with my general brainstorming ideas. I date everything, because I'm neurotic, and I apparently started this on 11/9/08.

My original title for this was "Can't Keep From Falling Asleep," which clearly is too long and cumbersome. This is where I begin to get a more cohesive idea of what the book will be about with major plot points and general ideas.
Here's what I call a "Cheat Sheet." It has my cast list and all important info that I might need to know for continuity purposes. I keep it on the top of my outline to refer to as a I write. I always "cast" my books with real people. I've blacked them out now, because that's how I roll. Except for Patrick Fugit, because he's awesome.
This is the first page of the outline. Whenever I finish writing a chapter, I strike through it so I know it's done. The scribbled out lines are things I've decided not to use. I cut stuff from the outline stage a lot, too.

This is second page of the outline. Not too exciting. At the top, I've written down songs I was listening to while I was working on it. Why? I don't know. It's something I do, though.
Here's a close up of the numbers in the left margin of the outline. The purple one is the day the story takes place, meaning that chapter is supposed to is set on November 12th. The blue number is the chapter, so that's chapter 12.
Here's the numbers in the right margin. The pink one is the day I finished writing it, in this case, it was November 18th, 2008. The gray number below it is my word count at the end of finishing that chapter. By the end of that chapter, I was at 32,030 words.
This is page five of the outline. As you can see, I change stuff a lot, cutting things and moving stuff around. I think outlines need to be fluid and adjust as the story goes on. The last two chapters on the page I haven't written, which is why they don't have lines through them.
Here's a page of notes I did for the book. I had to do some research for some things that take happen in it, and here's the pertinent information I wrote down.  Some books have more notes than other. My Blood Approves has like 8 pages of notes. Reckless Abandon only had the one.

That all brings us to the book itself. I'm only posting the first two pages, because I think that gives you a general idea of how the first chapter outline turned into the book. I was going to post the entire first chapter, but it felt too long and boring, so I skipped it. 

Obviously, outlines vary person to person.This is the way I outline, but there really is no wrong way or right way. I started outlining this way because it works for me, and this is pretty much the exact same way I've written the four My Blood Approves books, the Trylle Trilogy, Hollowland, and Virtue. I have an outline just like this one for Hollowmen and Wake.

Also, no need to point out issues with Reckless Abandon. It hasn't been edited at all, other than a cursory read through I did before posting it now. I didn't really want to go over in-depth, because I know the book sucks. It's slow and boring, and I'm pretty sure that nothing happens. The love interest doesn't even show up until the seventh chapter.

So... there. I hope this answers people's questions and is helpful in some way.

45 comments:

  1. Wow. Comprehensive insight there. Impressed. Thanks for taking the time and effort.

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  2. I love the random stuff an author picks up through book research.

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  3. Thanks for this. It's fascinating.

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  4. Thanks for sharing. I always enjoy getting a look at the development process of projects like this.

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  5. Wow...I have a notebook that I keep my outlines in and I date my stuff, too...You've put lots of heart and hard work into this. It's cool to see how you work out things for projects.

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  6. Interesting. I didn't do an outline for my first 2 books. Decided to try it with the 3rd* & have to say - it makes the 'butt in chair' time more productive. (*I didn't do an outline for the ending - wanna see where it goes.) Good Post.

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  7. You're awesome! Thanks for sharing.

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  8. That is really cool to see how you do things. How long does it usually take you to outline before you start writing? Do you finish the whole outline before writing, or outline as you go farther into the story?

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  9. Thank you for posting that, Amanda! It really is interesting to see how you make your magic.

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  10. Excellent! Very clear method. I find it difficult to be as comprehensive with the outline. Stories tend to do a 180 when I actually put them to paper.

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  11. Interestingly, your outlines were handwritten [btw, nice penmanship :-)]. Thanks Amanda ...

    Just love your stories!!!

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  12. Interesting glimpse into your process--thanks!

    I, also, outline by hand. Most of my screenplays were written almost entirely that way, only typing when I had things as I wanted them. It seems more fluid to me. Though my novel was written mainly on a laptop, all of my edits were still on a hard copy.

    Good luck on the new book(s)!

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  13. Thanks for posting this. I'm in the middle of an outline right now. It energizes me to see how others do some things.

    Best wishes!

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  14. Thank you for posting this because I have always wanted to write but never follow a routine and this may help me.

    I read the Trylle Triology and I loved it!!!

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  15. This was very helpful for me. I appreciate the insight and also for letting us see the beginning stages. I was always curious if you knew how the whole story would progress before writing. Thank you!

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  16. Wow, that's so different from how I do it. I had a feeling that my first book just wrote herself. No real outline, the story developed while writing and rewriting and rewriting (9 times) and researching. I tried to have more organized approach to writing of my second book, but it didn't work for me. I quit early on, because I lost all motivation and creativity. So that story was put on hold and now I am back to "go with the flow" with the story I am writing now and it's coming out nicely... It looks like outlines are not my thing. :)

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  17. Way to go! I think all writers should outline, mainly because I never used to and man did it show! I also like that everything's on pieces of paper which is so immediate, and so tactile. Sometimes tactile is good when you live inside your own head so much.

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  18. Hi Amanda! Thanks for sharing your process. I write by outline too. I am currently writing my first novel so I am still figuring out what works best for me. I started off with a brain dump of scenes I had in my head first using Word. Then I developed an electronic outline for the first couple of chapters, but one day I had a rush of ideas and ended up outlining a chapter by hand and loved it! I could scratch stuff out and draw arrows etc. I wrote that chapter a lot quicker too. :)

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  19. This is fascinating stuff. The fact that you share your process (both publishing and writing) is what keeps me coming back here. As a new(ish) author, I love reading about this kind of thing.

    My Zombie Novel: Mercy

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    1. "The fact that you share your process (both publishing and writing) is what keeps me coming back here."

      That's why I keep coming back here too! :)

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  20. Thanks for showing the outline Amanda. In my opinion, I think I can tell the difference between a novel that has been outlined and planned like the ones you write and those authors out there that insist on "pantsing". Personally, I hate "pantsing" and I think I can tell everytime when an author is doing that and it irritates me.

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  21. Wow! Very cool to see the inner workings. I wrote my first novel successfully without an outline but I definitely will do an outline for the next one. Without the outline, there was too much to go back to track and ensure consistency. I will definitely learn from what you've done.

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  22. Ur awesome for this!! And for other stuff too but right now this!! Thanks for the time and effort! Ur one in a million!! ♥ u!!

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  23. Great post! I love learning how other people outline. Thanks for sharing.

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  24. Amanda -

    I'm very impressed with your outline. I'm more of a pantser. I don't know what's going to happen until my characters starting telling me the story. And sometimes I get it wrong and have to re-write a big ole' chunk. Mosly, I get it wrong when I try to write if my characters aren't talking to me.

    The continuity page is a great idea though. Even someone as scattered as me has to see the benefit in that. I keep going back to check details (what color were her eyes again; did I ever give him a hair color?)

    Thanks for sharing - I really am gonna try that continuity page. My WIP is a romantic suspense/mystery (murder in a law firm). The continuity page would help a lot!!!

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  25. Thank you very much for the details!! I've written two without outlining, but I never quite thought of outlining as so detailed. You are really planning out every scene, it seems. Seems like a good approach, especially as one gets better at noveling. Do you write in word? Do you use track changes or document map? They both help me a lot.
    Aloha!
    Kris Wolfgang

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  26. very nice explaination. I may even tweak my outlining a bit. I have a question about editing.. If my memory serves me right, you said that you occationally have a few trusted people help you edit your books and I was wondering if you give them all the same manuscript at the same time or if you do one by one and edit along the way. I am about half way through my book and am starting to concider how I am going to go about editing. In my mind it just seems strange to give them all the book at the same time in case they have different editing stratagies, therefore overlapping ideas and corrections... Then again, I could just be crazy and overthinking things. :-) I would really appriciate your input and opinions.

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  27. Hi Amanda,

    you write you always cast your storys with real people...do you know those people (like friends, you know their characters...) or are they celebs and you go by their looks or maybe roles they've played?

    Best wishes

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  28. I LOVE YOU AMANDA!!!!! About your store, do you think maybe you could put on something besides on books? Like maybe T-Shirts? hint hint

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  29. Thank you for this Amanda. I was very curious as to how you did your outlines and how they helped you write your books so quickly. Very useful information. No wonder everyone thinks your a hottie :-)

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  30. I am a huge fan of outlining. I outlined my trilogy from the start. After finishing book one. I had to go back and re-outline book two. There were so many things that developed that now had to be taken into account.

    Also the biggest thing I found is that I did not run into any writers block. I knew what I had to write in this chapter, and what I needed to do in the next. It also let me put in the time before hand to work out any plot holes or logic gaps.

    When it came time to sit and write the book. It took five weeks and around 200 hours to get the 75k words put down.

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  31. Thank you for sharing your outlining technique, very cool! I'm a huge believer in outlining, though I wasn't always.

    I just read your first book and loved it! The next is now on order. Thank you for all you've done. You've inspired a lot of people (myself included!) and are helping to lift the negative stigma that has been on self-publishing. You are a pioneer and we love you for it!

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  32. Thank you for sharing your process. Very helpful. I am still working out what my own process is so it helps to have an idea of what someone like yourself does.

    Cheers
    Nadine

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  33. Thank for sharing your outline method. I may have to try a few of your techniques. I really liked keeping track of the time periods for everything. Also noting the music might put me back in the mood I had when writing when I go back and revise. Good ideas.

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  34. Wow, it's awesome to see people still outline the traditional way on paper! These days everything is done on computer. That's pretty cool to see your process!

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  35. I'm a crazy outlined too, but I like doing it digital so I can chop stuff and move it easier. I recently found a method called Snowflake which may be right up your alley since you are so detailed. Theres also a program called Software Pro, you have scene lists you can move around easily and a great little cast tool that is basically a bio for each person. The developer, Randy Ingermanson, runs an ezine called Advanced Fiction Writing. I even used part of his method developing my recently published children's ebook (I see... Savannah), it really helped!

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  36. You ...write that by hand? No freaking way. I hate writing ANYTHING out by hand. For one, I lose my train of thought far too easily, I can't write as fast as I can type and since I type for a living I type fast. For another, I would lose my notes. Even if they were in a notebook, because that's how I roll. ;)

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  37. i feel your love for patrick fugit. he's amazing in wristcutters.

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  38. I try to avoid writing anything of importance on paper anymore. With iPhone (or Android) it's silly not to keep electronic notes. Though I used to use my email app on my old feature phone for same purpose. The key is to make sure you have a tool track that you can trust such as Evernote or Nozbe. Though a folder in your email works too.

    In terms of specific outlines - I used to avoid them like the plague. But now I use them to sketch out idea. And I'm using Scrivener to write which makes it easy to do. But just keeping separate documents for this purpose would work as well.

    Thanks for sharing this Amanda.


    Best Regards,

    Mark

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  39. Thank you for taking the time to scan and share all that. It's always interesting to see how another writing organizes her work.

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  40. This reminds of of when I was writing my own work; I only made a few notes when mapping out my ideas but what I used the most was revision; I took one body of text and then I would reformat and redo some scenes. But your process is pretty neat; writing is a complex art that is sometimes underestimated as "complex" but there's a lot of work involved. Thanks for putting up the outlines. I can learn a lot from them.

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  41. Thanks so much for taking the time to explain and share your process! The visuals are especially helpful, I think, in dispelling the idea that a book springs perfectly formed from the writer's brain.

    I also like that you outline on paper. Writing software can be wonderful, but also a huge timewaster, depending on how you use it, and paper is flexible, portable, and patient.

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  42. Those of us with a long memory can compare Mr. Busch's prose of today with that of years ago -- and be delighted at how much more interesting and incisive it has become.

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