In Shadows © D. Jordan Redhawk 1999-2012


Outline or Seat o’ the Pants?

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It’s been a wild week, particularly at work. There was a slight dip in numbers as a result. I got my ears lowered, took a day off writing, and then remembered I had a Safety Committee meeting. Whoops! More time off than I’d planned! I’m still above goal at 6,249 words for the week.

Lady Mistress is coming in at a hefty forty-five thousand despite the ragged writing week. Still going strong, too. The writing’s tight and concise, unlike earlier drafts. I’ve been able to snag a few scenes from the early attempts, too, so that will help down the road.

No word on Broken Trails. No exciting news just yet. I’m hoping to make an announcement soon.

Outline or Seat o’ the Pants?

One thing I can count on is my ability to be changeable. (My unstable childhood has trained me well!) My outlining is the same way. When I began writing, each book followed the same path as far as outlining beforehand. As I’ve progressed as a writer, however, I’ve become more capable of outlining a novel prior to writing it.

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As some of you may know, my initial foray into writing and publishing on the web was a Xena/Highlander crossover fanfiction called the ‘Infinity Series’. Up to that point, I’d never completed a novella sized work of fiction on my own. (And I’d like to thank again all the wonderful people who read the serialization, and kept emailing me to keep going! Without you, I might have set it aside, and wouldn’t be writing now!)

For Only One I outlined… sorta. I listed the characters I wanted to portray in the current chapter, mentally figured out what they’d be doing, and listed their actions. From there, I created a chapter outline. (Of course, ‘chapter’ back then meant about ten thousand words — the size of five average chapters nowadays — so a lot more was crammed into them.) As each chapter represented a day in the life, I didn’t bother outlining beyond until I’d finished it. I’d then start the process once again.

With the first story completed, I spent a few weeks dithering around. I honestly didn’t think I had any more stories in me. My mind was ill-trained to the creativity of writing, having spent the majority of the last sixteen years painting and drawing.

I had an idea to integrate one of my favorite movies at the time, Last of the Mohicans, into a writing project. Wanting to turn it on its ear, I decided to put it into the cyberpunk genre. (CyberEpic) That writing project had a bit more of an outline in that I wanted to retain as much of the movie’s story arc as possible. The novella is divided into six sections which I had written notes about before I started. Again, I went section by section, figuring out which characters wanted as I went, not thinking beyond the current chapter.

Warlord Metal, the next two Infinity stories, Castle Walls, and On Azrael’s Wings were written along the same lines.

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It wasn’t until I was in the editing phase with Warlord Metal that I attempted to ‘reverse engineer’ the manuscript into an outline format. My editor (one of the best, Cindy Cresap!) emailed me after the initial reading, telling me that I had three story arcs in the manuscript. (News to me! All I did was write the stuff down.) There were some things missing, however, and I needed to add some new scenes.

I purchased multi-colored index cards, and laboriously went scene by scene through the manuscript. It was a pain, and shuffling the scenes around still seemed confusing. At least it was easier than looking at one large document, and trying to determine what needed to be moved where.

When I began Broken Trails, I had a specific linear progression to follow — the Iditarod itself. Once I figured out what was on the trail, and how long it would take for my characters to go through it, I could then plug my plot into the race. I’d had such a problem with the index card method, that I purchased a whiteboard and Post-It Notes. (The whiteboard was a major feature in my living room for years.) Each character had their own color of notepaper — Lainey, Scotch, and the race data itself. The visual was a lot easier for me, and I was able to swap things around when needed, or realize that the scene I had next was Lainey’s POV, but I really needed Scotch’s there.

And then I found Scrivener. O. M. G.

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Scrivener is a Mac-based computer program specifically written for writers. It’s like a whiteboard and index card system combined with a word-processing program! I can use it to see on official outline with blurb about each scene, or as a cork board with each scene an index card (and the cards can be color coded!) I can read the entire manuscript as a single document, or in a scene by scene mode, and I can move every scene anywhere in the manuscript.

In short, it’s as changeable as how I write.

I’ve plugged all of my ongoing projects into it. I’ve been able to streamline Broken Trails and realize where I needed more scenes from Scotch’s point of view. I’ve discovered part of the snag with Orphan Maker, and finished outlining it. There’s a special section for research, and I can have one project window open with a panel to write in, a panel with my notes, and general data regarding each scene.

Lady Mistress is the first novel I’ve outlined in its entirety prior to writing. Scrivener’s ease of use when it comes to adding or moving scenes about has been a boon, let me tell you. I don’t think I could have done this with any other outlining method.

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As I learn and grow as a writer, I find that I’m outlining more with each novel. I can’t say that it’s an absolute necessity to be a better writer, but for me it’s improved my ability. I know that many professional authors out there still swear by the seat o’ the pants method of writing, and more power to them. Writing is a subjective thing, and each person writes in a different way. What works for me might not work for another.

So I encourage you to play around with multiple methods. Don’t stick to just one. You might be surprised with the results!

Thanks for joining me this week!

Can I get some assistance? If you have any questions for me, or suggestions on what you want me to write about, please let me know! The comment form below will require a valid email address to ensure you’re a real person. (I don’t collect the addresses or do anything with them, so you won’t be getting future spam from me.) If that’s not to your taste, you can email me — the link is up above on the left.

Categories: Broken Trails, Sanguire Series, Writing
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