Sunday, January 17, 2010

Writing Process II: Outline & Idea Refinement

Hello everyone! I'm back for step 2 in my writing process! I strongly recommend you read Writing Process I before jumping into this because the examples will make more sense, but it's not necessary.

Since I already wrote a long post on how I outline HERE, this post is going to be about another side of this step in my writing process, something I call idea refinement.

Idea refinement takes everything I learned by asking questions in the previous step and clarifies it so it makes sense to the plot. Idea refinement also involves coming up with main and secondary characters, names, voices, and what part each character plays in the novel. I also need to figure out the ending: who is the bad guy? how does she catch him? what is the climax? the resolution? It also involves working out any little plot problems that arise as I outline (sometimes I have to write up several outlines, deleting/adding scenes, moving chapters around, that kinda thing).

For example, in the comments last post Eric asked:

If she has such a harsh reaction to emotions of neighbors, how is she going to be able to function enough to make it to a crime scene?

Um. Ha. See how it works? I hadn't exactly thought about or questioned that before, and in the outlining process it would come up (or maybe it might even sneak by me and I'd end up writing it in! Ugh!)

So now I have to think about how to fix this problem. I can downplay the effect the neighbors' emotions had on her by rewriting that scene, I can think of something she can do at the crime scene to mute those emotions (maybe she drinks, or does some other drug-- though I don't want to go down this route, so this idea gets scratched immediately) or I can try to explain WHY it works the way I made it. I end up going with this last option by deciding/refining the "laws and limits" of her ability like so:

The reason the neighbors' emotions seemed so strong is because she was not prepared. She was not expecting it. Had she been expecting it, it would be easier to manage. She could mentally prepare herself. Also, it's not that the emotions were crippling or anything, she just really did not like feeling the jealousy and suspicion of the wife, or the lust for the teenage babysitter coming from the husband. (Really, can you blame her?) So when these emotions started flooding her, she booked it down to the basement where the stone walls better mute emotion.

She would be able to prepare herself for the crime scene, though it would still be an issue. But I imagine that at a crime scene most people aren't feeling strong emotions of jealousy or lust, it would be things like: disgust at the murder, drive to capture the killer, and mostly people trying to figure out what happened-- all things she would probably be feeling anyway, therefore easier to manage than lust for a teenage girl. Does that make sense? I mean, if the MC were a teen boy instead, then the desire for a teen girl might not be so bad, but if the MC were a teen boy feeling the emotions of a teen girl crushing on an older man? Yeah, that would probably be awkward.

Then I need to figure out what happens in the middle: how are the people killed? why are they killed? what crime scenes does she go to? is there going to be a romance aspect? (probably-- that will be fun to write: are her emotions her own, or the love interest's?)

The most important question I need to answer is WHY. Why is she feeling these murders? Does she have a connection to the killer? All the victims?

I've had ideas: maybe the killer is a relative, so she is already connected to him. Maybe the killer is another empath, like her. Maybe all the victims are other empaths, and she has to find the killer because she's next? But that doesn't really explain why she is feeling these murders so strongly even though they take place all over town. Maybe it's just an aspect of her power so that she can use her power for good, instead of only seeing it as a curse. I would outline the whole story and decide on whatever ending I thought fit best. I would also brainstorm for other options.

Now, I've talked a bit about my outlining process, but I can still give you some more details. First off, before I outline I think about how much story I have and make a guess at the word count, and I outline by chapter. So, I have a YA fantasy story (The Temper) for the younger YA set (13-15) and I estimate that the word count will be about 60K. I decide how long I want each chapter to be (mine are usually long-- 4-5K) then I decide how many chapters I will have. For The Temper I decided the chapters will be about 4K, which puts me at 15 chapters.

In my notebook I number lines 1-15, then in each line I write a sentence about what happens in that chapter-- enough action/dialogue/stuff happening to fill about 4K worth. (Again, I go into more detail and give examples in this post.)

When I outline I make sure I have quiet and plenty of time to think and brainstorm. Sometimes I bounce ideas off my boyfriend to see what works, etc. I like to play the story in my mind like a movie as I outline, making it up as I go along.

Sometimes I have to brainstorm a lot to answer questions. In The Temper, the MC is a teen sidekick with a fairly unique though unimpressive power-- he can heat or cool non-living objects (melt ice, warm up coffee, that sort of thing). So it really was quite fun to brainstorm how he could use his power to save the day-- how can he fight off robbers brandishing guns? How can he rescue a woman from a burning building? How can he stop a bomb from going off and destroying the town? I had to think about it a lot, but I am very pleased with the answers I came up with! It's a fun story :)

Outlining is probably my favorite part of the writing process. Outlining and revising/editing (I can just hear all you guys crying out: "You LIKE to outline? You LIKE to edit? What is WRONG with you?) But I love figuring out the story, discovering the story and working out all the little details. I like knowing the story inside and out before I begin, because then as I go along I can add in more details. If I know a character is going to make a big revelation in the climax, I can put in well placed clues throughout, and that makes my first draft tighter and more coherent. I usually don't have to go through huge rewrites before sending it off to the betas.

All right, that wraps up this post! Next time I'll tackle Writing Process III: The First Draft.

How do you come up with your characters?
Do you outline the whole story before you start?
If you're a jump-right-in writer, how much of the story do you know before you begin?


  1. Well, after failing miserably at outlining, I've come to find out I'm a jump in writer. Though, I already know most of the story once I begin. I'm still holding out hope for outlining in the future, though. I love the idea of outlining, for some unknown reason.

    Thanks for sharing your process!

  2. Another great post on outlining, Kat. Thanks for sharing this very helpful information. Now I have to figure a way to remember where to go back to find helpful information when I am away from my desktop (like now).