The thrill of outlining – part 2

Karalee’s Post #62

I haven’t told my fellow 5Writers often enough that they are an inspiration to me, that they help me keep my life in perspective as they share their perspectives, and how important our group’s encouragement and sharing of information is a powerful source of positive energy that helps to keep me on my writing journey.

So, thank-you fellow 5Writers!

This blog came to be because over a year ago our group came to the conclusion that monthly critique meetings weren’t servicing our goals the way we had intended. Submitting 7500 words each was still a significant amount of critiquing for everyone, but was jerky progress at best in completing our individual novels in good time. For that reason we decided to challenge ourselves to work toward larger goals and come together as a group less frequently. Our blog was born as a surrogate meeting place and a way to share with our followers how our group works together.

All I can say is thank goodness for social media. As writers we hear that it is so important to be connected nowadays in order to market ourselves, but I feel it is also a very important medium to allow individual groups to stay connected. Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely occupation.

At present our goal is to come together this month and share our outlines for our next manuscript. To that end, I will continue my blog on that topic.

Outlining Part 2. The Middle.

outlining middlePart 1 addressed the overall story premise and jotting down four or five big moments in the plot line. If you really don’t write anything down you can keep all the information in your head instead, although I still consider this as a form of outlining as well. Actually, it’s a great exercise for the brain too and can possibly deter Alzheimer’s, but my brain doesn’t hold information for me like that.

I need to record things in order to remember details that must be consistent throughout my story. Brainstorming ideas can come from all directions and connect my characters and settings in ways that I hadn’t considered before and I easily forget the paths if I don’t write them down and I’d rather not miss the opportunity to make a good story great.

I also need reminders in front of me regarding key factors in the story that help keep me focused. As my story develops what I will tack to my wall is:

  • my story premise
  • protagonist and antagonist motives and desires (often what a character wants to do but can’t at this moment)
  • goal of the story
  • conflicts – major and minor
  • theme

More than likely when you are thinking about your story premise and big moments you will also  be thinking about what type of characters will play out the action.

This brings us to the next part of outlining.

The Middle

Characterization

This section is also super creative. You get to conjure up your characters using your own life experiences as well as drawing from a plethora of references available. These range from watching movies & documentaries, news stories, books on character development, applying enneagrams or personality or psychological profiles, researching history and cultures, taking relevant courses, visit your settings and experience them, people watching, and talking to strangers, teachers, and colleagues, etc.

At the same time you develop your characters, the settings they grew up in, moved away to, and live in now will also be coming to light as they are part of what makes up your characters too. 

While you start to understand who your characters are and note down your ideas (or log them in your brain), your story line is also burbling away as you envision what your characters are doing or need to do. Scenes start to emerge more clearly, filling in holes between your major big moments.

Some of these big moments might also shift and change, which is the beauty of thinking through your story before wasting huge chunks of time writing something that doesn’t work.

For me, drawing a big bubble map at this point helps me with my timeline and who is where doing what to whom. You may use a notebook split into sections, a writing software or a simple word document. Pictures are helpful as well both for settings and characters.

During all of this exciting and creative thinking and exploring time, you may be asking yourself where to start your opening chapter. I know this is always a huge issue for me when I start a new manuscript. The inciting incident must be established, but it doesn’t have to be at the starting gate. A key event must also happen that pushes your protagonist onto a path of no return. Before this course I wasn’t aware of the two as separate entities as they had worked together for me.

  • The inciting event is something that happens that “changes the world” in your story.
  • the key event brings the protagonist through to the “new world.”
  • the two can be the same event or separate. For example, if they are separate, the inciting event could be a major fire that destroys a neighborhood while the key event could be what brings your protagonist on scene, such as the discovery of an underground bunker full of stolen paintings. And of course, the antagonist will become involved as well through the stolen paintings in some way.

Your mind will keep throwing out ideas from all directions so I recommend to keep noting them down to be sorted at a later time.

Now back to characterization.

Your character’s history is really what has made him/her the person he/she is today. This means you need to know your character’s life over and above the details of DOB, physical characteristics, and where her/she was born and lived.

The rest is what is called backstory and is what makes your characters do interesting things for interesting reasons. It is through backstory that you discover your characters’ motivations, desires, internal conflicts, etc.

Backstory includes:

  • family, friends, colleagues, lovers – and how they have influenced your characters. What major incidents happened in your characters’ lives in childhood and onwards (good to note at milestone times) that shaped their motivations, desires, fears, strengths, weaknesses, etc.
  • time in history – present, past, future (understand the setting)
  • cultural influences. For example, understanding the culture is a good jumping point to go against the norm in a believable way and add conflict.
  • present profession and jobs leading up to what the characters do now
  • hobbies/interests
  • travel experiences
  • life-altering experiences – sickness, traumas, abuses, extreme weather events, but also acts of kindness, etc. too

The overall purpose of backstory is:

  • to weave in connection points in order for your reader to relate to your characters in some way either positively or negatively. It allows readers to understand where your character is coming from (motives, desires, fears, strengths) when he/she takes action, whether the action is as expected or unexpected. Here the cliche “show don’t tell” is helpful and information often can be given through dialogue rather than through narrative dumping. (this has been a hard lesson for me to learn.)
  • a source of inner conflict in your story
  • understand your characters arcs and how they can change in a believable way in your story

outline novel bookIn her book Outlining you Novel Map Your Way to Success, KM Weiland suggests a couple of ways to develop your characters:

  1. Start at the inciting event and work backwards to answer why your protagonist and antagonist would be affected and why will they do what they do in your story?
  2. Interview your character and ask oodles of questions such as those given in her book and her free online book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

Her website is helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/resourses/free-e-book.

Have fun developing interesting and memorable characters.

Happy outlining!

5 thoughts on “The thrill of outlining – part 2

  1. I love the information here, Karalee, though I had to look up what an enneagram was (cuz like I thought it was either some form of new social media or a nasty test that combined enema and sonogram.)

    • Haha Joe. Love your humour and sometimes this writing business does seem to be like your combination suggestion above. It makes me wonder where your mind takes you when you brainstorm!

  2. I feel the same about 5-5-5 and our blog, Karalee. I’m about halfway through the Weiland book and finding it very useful (though I have to say it feels like it’s been written by two people as I’m finding a noticeable change of voice from section to section, like a collaboration of a kindergarten teacher and a college professor!) thanks again for this reco.

  3. Pingback: The Process Begins! | 5 Writers 5 Novels 5 Months

  4. Great synopsis, Karalee. You and Paula should get royalties from K.M. Weiland for pitching her book. Seriously. I checked her out to decide if I should also order the book. On her website she describes herself as ‘a fighter, a writer, a child of God.’ She writes historical and speculative fiction, and she mentors authors. Also, she sells not only books on Amazon, but a variety of products, which she promotes on her website. I do understand the need for authors to make money where they can, but am wondering if a ‘mentor’ who claims to ‘help writers to become authors’ should sell stuff (other than books on that subject) on her website. Maybe that’s just me.

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