24 September, 2013

Exclamation Points at Home are a Sign of Poor Planning at Work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You'll notice many of my novel-related posts are riddled with exclamation marks. This is for good reason...! Partly, those are how I stay awake these days, and partly, those are just how I feel. (!)

Write an outline as you go! Seriously, do it! For the love of Gandalf!

If it were socially appropriate for me to walk around with a reminder note dangling before my face from a straw taped to the top of my head, it would say this.

When you take stock of your plot, you will benefit tremendously from having a scene by scene outline. And it will be a massive pain in the ass--if Donkey Kong were a baboon the pain could even spread to encompass his massive, extravagant buttocks--to go back over and read your entire book, writing a summary from start to finish. I, through not following my own advice, have now had to do this five times. I know it's good to read your book over and over, but it's demotivating to realise that's all you can do for a few days: read, summarise, read, summarise, find gun, summarise, read, aim, kill self.....

Seriously. It sucks. (!)

Other than the obvious, "What happens?", here's some stuff to make note of in each summary:

What has each character revealed about themselves? This goes for a particular look your POV character has noticed (he clicks his tongue when he's nervous, he likes hats, whatever) to a deep secret. Note everything. You'd be surprised how easy it is to forget, and find yourself carefully sculpting another description only to discover you've just wasted an hour.

Ditto for the setting, if that's relevant.

What has your character learned? In a way, the first two things fall into this category, but I mean this in terms of plot. If it's a character novel, how have they grown? If it's a crime mystery, what clues have they uncovered, and also how have they grown? Note everything, even if it seems irrelevant. Once you get to the denouement, it won't be.

Even more importantly (I'll touch on it now and write a post about it later) what does your character want?

Note anything, even if it's just a phrase, that you're going to refer back to. If you discover this later (as in, if you discover that you're going to refer back to something after having already done so unconsciously, or just deciding to after the fact) go back and change your outline. Do it right then! Otherwise you might forget! In a good book, you'll probably refer back a lot, and it's a pain big enough for Donkey Kong's ass, even if he were a baboon, to go back and find them from the huge mess of text.

As far as I can tell, that's about it. Note them in detail, though. My advice is to have two versions of your outline, printed and sitting on your desk. In one, have the details. In the other, just have a sentence or two describing the action at its most basic level. That simplistic version will be handy for jumping around the text. There's "document map" in MS Word, but sadly it's been programmed by small children and/or monkeys. It's horrible. Seriously. If the people who programmed it weren't innocent children and/or cute fuzzy monkeys, if they were adults who performed the atrocities deliberately and knowingly, then they should be sent to prison. Furthermore, having things in outline form on paper will mean you can look at it and your novel at once. Also, and better still, you'll see the shape of each chapter. It's very handy. (!)

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