Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How an outline can come together

My approach to writing an outline and getting my ideas blocked out has evolved with each novel I've worked on. For Lord of the City, the outline was more a set of ideas and milestones I saw for the story - this event is followed by that event, then this happens, and so forth. I started putting words down for the actual story when I was about halfway through the outline, and I tried to keep the outline progressing a few chapters ahead of the main story. This worked reasonably well, and made it so I wasn't too boxed in when I found the story changing drastically as I wrote it from what I'd originally had in mind. At the same time, it didn't really lay out where I wanted the characters to go and how I wanted them to develop, leading to a fair amount of backtracking and adding onto early sections once I got to a section of the story where the characters were really missing some earlier progress.

City of the Lords worked out differently. I had the overall idea of the entire story blocked out early, from knowing that it would come in three parts to getting a good idea of why the story would be told by a different person in each segment. The story had fewer changes as I went along than Lord of the City did (though there were still plenty of them as I worked it out), and I think the structure came out better for it. Still, the outline wasn't terribly detailed and while it gave me a "feel" for each character up front it didn't really spell out why the characters were growing as they did.

For this third book in the series, I'm finding myself outlining in more detail than I did before. It's not only events, but also some pretty in-depth notes on how the characters feel about particular scenes and how they react to them, giving me a deeper sense of each character before I've put down a single actual word of text for the novel itself. For the first time each chapter is blocked out from the beginning (at least for the first section where I have the most detail); while I don't plan to stick to the chapter breaks if they don't flow well when I'm writing, it gives me a great guide as to how I can expect the progress of the first part to go.

Here's some examples. Before you keep going, if you haven't read my first two titles, be warned that there may be minor spoilers below. Ready to continue? Ok. From my original outline for Lord of the City, I've got a bunch of notes describing "here's the state of the City, here's some general history, here's how human magic works", and then the story is listed as something like this:

  •  -       Set up scene, say why mission needs to go
  • -          Ship gets built/tested, crew set up
  • -          Trip begins, people settle into roles
  • -          First site visited. Nope.
  • -          Trip to second site. More bladesmen seen.
  • -          Second site visited. Nope. Light contact?
Yeah. Not a lot of detail, and a ton of changes happened along the way. Let's look at my notes on City of the Lords:

  • 3 parts. P1: Kenton.
  • Humans settle. City landed in unclaimed area between 3 small "nations". Lords rule some, advise others, etc.
  • Hear of a City with many (2 dozen?) Lords, "retired" from public involvement. Other nations basically pay for their upkeep so they leave the world alone.
  • 3 years after landing, Viala has a son. Soon after, the humans are attacked by a nation who is also at war with another nation the City is working with.
Still plenty of alterations from this original outline, but a lot more detail put to paper (though much of it was still in my head). And now an example of what I'm coming up with for the next title; here's what I have for the equivalent of what would have been one bullet point above:
  •  Nobody hears from Ikami for nearly a day afterwards and people are getting worried. Suddenly, Ikami sends a message (cross-continent!) and says she needs help. The message is stronger than it should be, even for Ikami - Cord has concerns about what's happening over there. Ikami creates a temporary portal between the City and the research encampment near the CotL where she’s currently at, and Cord/Viala/Ather/Wesnoq/Apashae (taken over training of Human mages since Dural died) go through. Kenton stays behind, needing to manage the crisis in the City. He cautions them based on the earlier incident; clearly torn between going investigating with the rest and staying to do his duty at home.
(chose that one because it gives away the least amount of spoilers; it's clearly partway into the story)

Sure, there'll be changes (there always are!), but I've got a much better idea of how I want my characters to feel and progress through the arc of the story, meaning that I can give a better setup to lead them in the desired direction. It's not just more story detail, but more character detail.

Anyways, it's been interesting watching my own evolution as I gain more experience in completing and publishing novels. Hopefully this small glimpse into my process was interesting for you too!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Time to start on a new one!

After finishing a writing project, I always need some time to let my mind wander around without focusing on any specific topic. This is the time where I come up with new ideas, review old ones, and sometimes throw a few words at different stories to see if any stick without really planning on doing anything about them.

It's been a few months since City of the Lords was published, and in the last week or two my creative mind has started itching again. There's a story that I've been thinking about for a year or so and working on here and there, but after much review I determined that that one's not quite ready to be finished. I went through my collected backlog of old story ideas and found one that I'd put about 20,000 words into. It's pretty good, actually, and I really like the idea. But the writing is from several years ago and is not what I'd consider up to spec now, so those 20,000 words would take a lot of rewriting.

Last but not least, of course, is the fact that the Bladesmen Lords story is not yet finished. I had one reader who sounded a bit disappointed when I told her that I was considering working on something else next, and the next book keeps bouncing around in my head. Today I opened up a fresh new document and after reviewing some pertinent information on City of the Lords began an outline on the third book. It's very high level at this point and barely scratches the beginning, but it's a start.