Outline as Continuum

A week ago or so, I wrote a novel in five days. I was away at a writing retreat, so I had nothing to do but write.

When I came home, I tried to recreate this writing speed, with mixed success.

A couple nights later, I ended up unable to sleep. Writer brain very happily told me the rest of the story I was currently writing. The ending surprised me, but it made total sense and fully completed the character arc.

The next day, as well as the day after that, I was able to “write like the wind” as it were. And it’s continued today as well.

Seemed that for this story, I needed to know where I was going. It wasn’t the distractions of home so much as writer brain needed help, more plot points, a clearer track, before she could run.

That got me thinking about how outlines are really on a continuum, as opposed to a fixed point.

For the novel I wrote in a week, I developed what I’ve been calling “points of interest”. Think about a map. However, all that it has on it are a few points of interest. There are no roads, no signs, not even topography, so you have no idea if you’re in the mountains, or by a lake, or close to a city… It’s all darkness between those spots. Plus, while you know you need to visit all the points of interest, you don’t know the order in which you’ll see them. In addition to that, there are other points of interest that you need to discover along the way.

However, just knowing those points of interest was the level of detail that I needed to write that novel in a week. It was the third novel in a trilogy. I already knew the world and the characters. But the story itself was covered in darkness, and I had to discover it as I wrote along.

That didn’t work for this current story. It, too, is the third of a trilogy. I know the world and the characters. But just a few points of interest weren’t enough. I needed to develop a lot more in order to write.

Did I bother writing down any of the ideas I came up with for this current story? No. I’ll remember the important parts and make up the rest. And I won’t slavishly follow what I came up with that sleepless night. I’ve already changed sections of it. Other parts have stayed true, and will stay true.

Don’t know where on the continuum of outline the next couple of short stories will fall. I suspect they’ll be closer to the “tell me everything first” as opposed to the “writing into full darkness”.

As for the next big novel (which I hope to start as well as finish in June) I am going to start off with developing points of interest again. I suspect that novel will need more discovery up front, and just some points won’t be enough. It is the fourth (and last) of a series, so I know the world and characters. But it’s a big book and I think I’ll need to know more of the story before I can write it. We’ll see.

Another novel I want to write is yet another final novel in a trilogy. The first of that set of books I wrote with a 26 word outline. The story is told from the point of view of first one character, then a second character, then back to the first again. The “outline” was merely a description of the emotional state of the two characters. While what happened to each character was wildly different, I wanted their emotional state to be similar by the time they’d finished their respective chapters.

I had a vague idea of where I was going with the second novel, but no outline. Maybe a few points of interest, but that was it.

For the third novel, I don’t know yet what I need, but I suspect very little.

And the project after that? Who knows? Will it be, as my sweetie says, writing into dimly lit hallways? Or completely into the dark?

Part of the fun of writing is discovering what a particular project needs. For me, that means listening, paying attention, and trying different things if the writing isn’t working well.

How about you? Where do you fall on the continuum of outlines?

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