Outlining and the easily bored mind

After reading through various books, websites, and blogs, I realized if I want this novel writing thing to pan out, I needed to begin with an outline. I’d never done this before and all my other attempts to complete a book failed. It was definitely worth a shot. I settled on using Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. I already had a notebook with some chunky ideas about where I wanted to go with the story before I started outlining. These ideas matured and evolved as I went through the steps of the Snowflake Method.

I didn’t follow each of his steps exactly (he notes repeatedly to do what works for you), but I pretty much began by writing a one sentence summary of my novel. That was challenging. The first “sentence” I wrote looked more like a paragraph. I felt pretty accomplished once I was able to condense it down into something concise yet still representative of my story.

Step two was to expand the one sentence summary into a five sentence paragraph.

Sentence one- Background info

Sentence two- Disaster 1 (or Act 1 if you prefer)

Sentence three- Disaster 2

Sentence four- Disaster 3

Sentence five- The ending

This exercise really forced me to identify the major conflicts that will drive my novel forward. At this point I felt like someone had given me some very general directions to a party. “Head south on the interstate, get off at exit 86, take a right, then a left, and the house is at the end of the road.” I was excited to add some extra details.

The next step had me expanding each sentence of the paragraph into its’ own individual paragraph and after that I expanded each of those paragraphs into a one page summary. I had to go back and edit my one sentence summary several times as I progressed and learned more about my story. I also made sure to spend some time developing my characters throughout this process.

Once you have the general storyline set up, the Snowflake Method suggests creating a spreadsheet that contains every single scene in your book. I just made a two column table in Word- “scene” and “description.” I got as far as the end of Disaster 2 before I got a little bored. It wasn’t my story that was boring me, thank goodness, I just have trouble doing the same thing for extended amounts of time. I also considered how much my story changes and grows as I plan. Did I want to spend days outlining each scene in detail through to the very end and end up not using most of it once I start flowing on my first draft? No. I definitely didn’t want that. I take the same approach with teaching. I’ll loosely set up a plan for the unit, and make a tighter plan for the week, but I only plan in detail 2-3 days at a time. It never fails, if I plan each nitty gritty part of my lesson out two weeks ahead of time, something goes awry. The kids may grasp a concept faster than I expect (or slower). I might read about an amazing lab we just have to add in. I might realize a particular concept is better taught a different way with a particular group of kids– endless things can go amiss. I hate feeling like I’ve wasted time.

So, when I started to get weary about taking the detailed outline too far, I began my first draft. My plan is to continue writing my first draft through the end of the second disaster (when my detailed outline ends). After that, I get to change it up again and go back to outlining in detail (remember, I already have a general outline for the whole book). I will always ensure that the content I’m drafting has first been planned and structured. I have a horrible sense of direction. Failing to plan ahead will surely leave me rambling/lost. I need direction; I just can handle taking ALL the directions at once. Give me the directions to the party. Once I get to the party, give me directions to the restaurant, after I eat, give me the directions to the next place. While I might have known all along that I wanted to go out to eat after the party, maybe I heard about a great new restaurant to try while I was there (glad I didn’t bother making reservations at the first place!). Working the way I have been allows me time saving flexibility while also providing structure. Most importantly, working this way is keeping me writing.

Whatever works!




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