Outlines. Why did it have to be outlines?

(Warning: this is a process blog entry.  I will talk about writing and how I go about doing it.  I admit I do prefer the blogs that involve pictures of food/kittens, or the fluff of movie reviews, but sometimes, I have to inject a little substance.  My apologies.)

One of the questions I constantly receive is “are you a plotter or are you a pantster?”  Which in layman’s terms, means, do I plot out my stories in advance of actually writing them, or do I just sit down and type and see where the characters take me – aka, writing by the seat of my pants.  The answer is a little of both.  You see, gentle reader, what I do, is outline.

In fact, I have spent the last couple weeks, as we say in the biz, “on outline.”  (In layman’s terms, I’ve been… writing an outline.  OK, that one’s not really too difficult to decipher.)    My outlines are really the bare bones of the story, just enough to explain to someone (sometimes my agent or editor, sometimes my future self) the basic steps of the plot.  The circumstances under which my Hero and Heroine meet, come together, break apart, and find their way through those circumstances to the Happily Ever After.  That’s it.  No deep descriptions of the scenery, no layered symbolic meanings, Just the Story.

That doesn’t mean that it’s short.  My latest one, which I consider less plot-heavy than my previous works, is 18 pages long (double-spaced).  And I consider this fairly succinct.  Here’s why it is the way it is, in my Kate Noble’s Rules for how Kate Noble Writes an Outline, aka Its all about the Flow.

1.     Screw bullet points.

If you have bullet points in your outline, or chapter breaks, or numbers, you’re not writing an outline.  You’re writing a beat sheet.  It is in general far more detailed than I am willing to do for a book.  Part of the fun of writing novels is finding out something new along the way, which a rigid beat sheet doesn’t make room for.  You need a little space to breathe.  The story should flow as easily as if you were telling it aloud.

2.     No descriptions.  Well, some descriptions.

You may know exactly what your hero looks like, down to which side he parts his hair on.  You may have landscaped the main setting in your mind to the smallest tree.  That’s fine.  But it doesn’t belong in your outline.  Just give the basics.  He’s a handsome duke with a jolly temperament, or a war veteran with a limp and a permanent scowl.  The house is a grand country estate with wide sloping lawns.   If you get too bogged down in the details, the whole thing will stall.

3.     Don’t worry about Voice.  Or historical accuracy therein.

When I speak, I don’t sound like your average British aristocrat of the Regency period.  Why should my outline?  That is not to say that I inject “like” and “um” and “you know” into my outline.  I am turning this into my editors, after all.  But I do allow myself to write in a more contemporary voice, and to throw in contemporary references.  For example, in my outline for Follow My Lead, when George is tracking Winn and Jason across the German countryside, I wrote this:

Meanwhile, much like Prince Humperdink in The Princess Bride, George has managed to track Winn and Jason to the little town of Lupburg…

It’s not a line I could have put anywhere in my historical romance novel, considering that movies, let alone The Princess Bride wouldn’t be around for quite a while.  But for me, my editor and my agent, it is a quick and easy reference for exactly what George is doing, and the style in which I am going to present it in the book itself.

4.     It’s all about the Movements!

Get the movements of the story on the page.  A. One thing happens, which leads to another B., which they decide to do C. about.  This is really what your outline is about, moving through the story.  Now, as noted above, my most recent outline was 18 pages long, which believe it or not, is my longest.  And I mentioned that I consider it far less plot-heavy that previous books.  The reason for this is that while the movements of the characters may not be extreme, but their emotional shifts are just as important to get on the page, as their physical ones.  Especially in a love story, which is quite naturally, all about the internal movements.  (Ew, not that.  Get your minds out of the toilet.  You’re like a bunch of 12-year old boys, I swear.)

And that’s it.  I am of course, very happy to be “off outline” now, and “on story,” but the truth of the matter is, if I went on story without an outline, at least for me, madness would ensue.

But – and this is a huge But – not everyone is going to do it like I do.  And that’s fine.  To each their own.  Whatever gets you to that story that you were meant to write, is the right way to go about it.

That’s all for me this week, Happy reading everyone!