|Please don't ask me. I really don't know.|
I generally start stories with one driving image, a couple of characters, and an ending. All of which I may change at my least whim. I then chug through the beginning, guided only by intuition, my fancy, and my gut. However, by page 100 I have probably discovered an angry screaming hoard of serious plot issues. And considering the vagueness of the original plan, all I can say is: duh.
Then it is time to whip out the trusty 3x5 cards!
I write the basic details of a each scene that I've written on the lined sides and lay them out in order on some open space. And since by then I generally have a much better sense of where the story is going, I do the same for the rest of the scenes in the book. Then I write scenes that I need to add on the unlined sides of the cards and insert them where they belong. This is probably enough to get me through the last page of my first draft.
From this point on I incorporate new plot ideas as if I had intended them from the beginning and note their existence in a to-do list and in BOLD, RED, CAPS-LOCKED FONT WITHIN THE TEXT OF MY DRAFT. This makes my first drafts absolutely incoherent to anyone except me. Yay.
Once I've finished with the draft, I make plans for each chapter, remove all the SCREAMING CAPS-LOCK, put all the necessary revisions into several different to-do lists so I don't lose track of them, type up all the sticky notes I've acquired into their own Word doc, and make a typed outline of the book as it stands. Then I begin revising.
But the plot keeps evolving contrary to my feeble outlines and revision plan. Usually I end up putting the draft away until it figures itself out and working on something else for a few months.
This is basically what happened to my current WIP.
Now it feels like it has worked itself out as I hoped it would. Which catapulted me into a revision frenzy and caused the beginning of the most, comprehensive, detailed, and, I hope, useful outline of how I want my book to be that I have ever written. In fact, I even titled the doc "badassoutline" in a fever of inspiration one very late night.
I am breaking the novel down by scene, titling the scene, giving a brief summary of each action, then a physical and emotional response to each action and noting the change/revelation in the scene.
But it feels very foreign, and because I have never written anything quite like this before, I had a moment of fear that I wasn't doing it right and spent some time looking up novel outlining systems on Google. Most of the ones that I found make my free-spirit cringe or were so vague it seems impossible for them to be actually helpful.
Luckily, I soon remembered that this is my creative process and it's impossible for me to do it wrong. Comforting thought.
Still, I'm curious about other peoples' outlining systems. Do you use note cards? Does your outline always have your scenes/chapter broken down in the same way or is it fluid?
I know Susan has a formidable file archive of intense, scary looking outlines. No doubt she will have an interesting response to this post as soon as she is settled in on her Awesome Adventure.***
* Though I'm pretty sure Susan agrees with me.
** Which means, in case you are unfamiliar with the term, that I write by the seat of my pants. Which may or may not be permanently singed after I am done with this novel.
*** Which I am sure she will tell you about in good time.