Outlines and Octopuses

I’ve written already about outlining. In brief, it isn’t a natural process for me though I like having an outline, I don’t like writing an outline. The novel I’m writing for 2011 is still in the outlining phase, for reasons I can’t go into yet. Suffice it to say, due to circumstances beyond my control and covered by my NDA, my story has changed somewhat.

I am perfectly happy with this . . . in theory. Except–and again, I cannot go into detail–this particular book feels like trying to wrestle an octopus down for a nap in my bed. I’m not enjoying it, and I can’t help but wonder if the whole thing isn’t a big, messy mistake I am eventually going to have to salvage something functional out of. I”ve tried (and tried) just writing it out, but there’s so many threads I’m getting confused about the whens and the wheres and, most importantly, the whys.

To that end, I got fed up last night and tried something new:

My "outline"

The solution!


That is a whiteboard I installed in what was once my office and is now our bedroom (long story, not interesting). The post-its are scenes and important character shifts. The lines connect characters to their scenes and also to scenes they are directly affecting or affected by.

Why is this better? You may notice, in the middlish bit that there are three post-its clustered together. Those represent the only three scenes–aside from the starting points of the characters–that I was sure about. Three major characters have something major happen to them at the same time. For these scenes to work, they need to all be happening at the same time. They all need to be set up in  plausible ways. And they all need to flow down from those characters’ starting points.

When I started, all I had was a row of characters/forces/factions across the top, and those three scenes.

Now I’ve filled in the paths to those scenes and a few endpoints I need to reach (tonight, I need to fill in that bottom half). And wow, am I happy I did this! A character I was thinking about removing suddenly became critical and filled out into someone I’m much more interested in. A character I needed at the start found a way to both excuse themself and become more relevant (What does that mean? Wait until Fall 2011.) And I’m starting to really seee a theme come together here–slightly different than my planned one, but lovely nonetheless.

I’m interested in hearing how others sort their thoughts, pre-writing. What do you do when the octopus needs a nap?

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