Today is the 29th of October and that means it's Nano time in less than two days. Less than two days!!! I'll wait until you're done panicking, take your time.
We've had our regional kick off party, and my first 'write-in' of the year where I didn't write more than the title of a project I'm decently sure isn't going to be my nano-novel--more on my inability to get over the hump and pick a freaking plot later--and I've had 387 people asked me about outlining.
Alright, so that might sort of be an exaggeration.
There are all sorts of schools of thought about outlining, especially with Nano. Some people are 'pantsers' who sit down on Nov 1st with a vague idea and a blank document and just...go. If that's you, I salute you and your craziness and wish you all the best of luck. I've tried that route before, and I wind up with fifty-thousand words of 'middle' where freaking nothing happens and I hate everyone.
I'm a plotter. And not in the sense that I have ideas and an outline that vaguely points me in the right direction--if you're the sort of person who gets committed to things once you write them down, that might be the way to go for you--but in the sense that I know exactly what's going to happen in every single scene, complete with snatches of dialogue and maps and genealogical research for my main characters. And I have all that with the complete understanding that at some point the plot will go off in a strange, sideways direction and none of it will apply. It's fine, it doesn't need to end the way I think it's going to end, I just have to have one written down or I don't get past the middle.
But here's the pitfall with that. I don't always finish the book in November. Sometimes I don't finish the book until the next November. And I promise you no matter how much sense you think your outline notes make, a year down the line they're alien hieroglyphics written by a drunken college student. And that's assuming they made sense in the first place.
Case in point. Years ago I started a contemporary romance--not my normal genre but it's taken me ten years to get anywhere near actually picking a genre so whatevs--that I intended to pick away at bit by bit in the off season. Back when I was still trying to make myself write actual books outside of Nano events. And it's cute, what I have of it, and once in a while moved by nostalgia or whatever I go back and start reading it again, thinking I'm going to finish the story. I wrote it in Scrivener which oh so helpfully printed out all my outline notes at the chapter heads, when I moved it to Word. And every time I do this, I get to this--
Chapter 27, Scene 1--Lionel Richie's Greatest Hits
I stare at that for ten minutes trying to figure out what in the seven hells I meant. Every. Single. Time. Was that supposed to be on the radio? Does a character discover a sudden fascination with Lionel Richie? I know myself, and I had some spectacular brain-lightening idea that I was absolutely positive I'd never forget so I didn't need to write more of it down than that. It was so brilliant the entire concept of Lionel Richie would forever be linked to it in my brain.
Sometimes I forget my brain is an easily-distracted hamster.
So, here's my advice on outlining:
- Experiment, find the method that works best for you because everyone thinks and writes differently.
- Give your self space to wiggle, if you think you'll get attached to whatever you write-down or you're generally still learning how you outline.
- If you leave yourself a note, leave it like you're explaining it to a fourth-grader you've never met before.
- For the love of all things holy, if the story changes don't forget to change the outline too.