18 February 2017

Writing: Back to Basics - Outlining

Novel 25% lists: 11, 12, 13...14 chapters?
It’s near enough a month since I wrote my first Back to Basics post acknowledging that the Structure of my work-in-progress had become a horrific tangle. Since then I’ve identified the principle knot – my Hero had stopped acting Heroic – I’ve injected the required drive, and tweaked all the following chapters back into flowing order.

This leaves the novel at the 75% mark with, for me, around 25k words to The End. The climax, the denouement and the aftermath are already written in note form, and have been for months. My need now is to bridge the gap.

Considering this problem was caused by my steering the novel by the reach of its headlights, I decided to ape the ending and write a bridging chapter-by-chapter outline.

Hmm. Old habits die hard. Just as I undertake structure via gut-feeling, so my outlining capacity is similarly led. I work too close in, seeing the gravel of the tarmac road in all its shades and texture, rather than take an aerial view where the road is no more than a faint grey line traversing a landscape spread with blocks of muted colour.

Time for a rethink. I researched outlining on the Net, and even read a few. Invariably they are sparse enough to be meaningless to all but the author. 24: J&C attack bank; 25: J&C escape cops. To my thinking half a novel could be hidden between those two. Where’s the tone? The emotional baggage? The subsidiary characters?

My novel has the weight of 75% pushing from behind. This should not be difficult. It’s just a matter of giving the momentum its head, perhaps taking a different route. So that's what I did. Instead of working with fingers and keyboard I left the office with pad and pen and ended up with the same sort of precis that I usually write after a chapter is completed.

Has it worked? Sort of. I reckon 14 chapters will see it through, but averaging 2k a shot at this point in the novel that equates to 28k words. A bit of an overrun. Any bets my next Back to Basics will be Editing? Maybe that won’t be a bad thing.


  1. Better that you notice this development at this stage than when the first draft is completed, Linda. Mind you, it's a pretty big flag that's flying there; difficult to miss on re-reading, I imagine.
    My own approach, which involves no re-reading until the story is out, could miss such a development.That would then result in some serious rewriting for the second draft. But, in so many ways, I treat my first draft as an expanded synposis, since I really don't know where the characters will take me until I've reached the natural conclusion. Fortunately, the ideas that spring up during the process (like the one that came during a pleasant walk in the forest this morning) are all recorded in Scrivener's Notes section, ready to be inserted during the first editing session.
    We all work in different ways, and as long as the method suits the author, I guess any way will do. It's the story that matters in the end, not the route taken to complete it, eh?
    Good luck with the continued tale and the coming editing. I'm looking forward to reading the finished novel.

    1. I knew something was wrong a looong while back, but kept writing the other two storylines until I worked out how I could fix it. It's still taken some fancy footwork, though.

      I love your 'no re-reading until the story is out'. Gosh, I'd forget what I'd written the day before!

    2. I think because I live the story as I write, and forget almost everything else in the process, my limited brain space is occupied with the story. Mind you, I still discover things during the first edit that surprise me, as I'd forgotten I'd included them! That's why my second draft is much more than an edit and more of a rewrite.