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The evening sun snuggles between mountains on the horizon, casting amber and rose light across the water’s surface. Waves from boats, jet skis and swimming children eases into the lazy ripples of a late summer breeze. Cloaked in muggy heat, crickets and bullfrogs play the score of my childhood. Beside me, fireflies rise from tall grasses in a beautiful reverse cascade blinking the evening away, conjuring the night into existence. A man I knew in his prime hunches crookedly over a little girl, tying tiny feathers onto her near invisible line. Her eager face stares into his watery blue eyes, not caring about the process he explains in the animated voice of a grandfather.
He smells of marshmallows and rain, Old Spice and Copenhagen. I know because I was the small child in his lap many years ago. I, too, ate his marshmallow bait, forcing him to carry feather flies and pack his former bait in neat plastic bags as a snack for me instead of the trout.
The little girl stands, tossing braided pigtails over her shoulders and stuffing the last marshmallow between pink rosebud lips. Her gum boots are camouflage, an enchanting addition to the frilly pink sundress and bows dancing in the wind. With the flip of her dimpled four-year-old wrist, the little pole points to the water and yards of clear line sail into the night, her spotted feather bait seeking a fish hungry enough to trust her lie.
Pride wells on the man’s face and his easy smile chases away the wrinkles and years separating the little girl and me.
“She’s just like you were,” he says over her tiny head, as he struggles to stand on aged legs. He braces a soft palm against the rough bark of our willow tree, seeking a better view of my daughter’s hard work. I nod, blink back tears and swallow hard with an emotion thickened throat.
“Thanks Daddy,” I croak, half embarrassed by the emotional tidal wave brought on by a few fireflies and a handful of marshmallows.
He waves me off, refusing to join in my tears. Instead, he claps when she squeals, reeling wildly at the water’s edge. An enthusiastic catfish has taken interest in her silly feather fly and her grandpa helps her bring the catch to shore. He looks at me as if I’m somehow the one responsible.
“You did real good, darlin’,” he coos into the night’s dim light, and I’m pretty sure the words were meant for us both.
What else can you put in your outline? Everything! Today we make notes about things easily forgotten when a writer has the main events in focus.
Family & Occupation
•Document the dailies:
–School or office
–Peers and co-workers impact your MC too
–Family is relentless & we are obligated
–Add stress and flavor to enrich the MC’s life by connecting readers in ways they can relate
–Grandma’s 80th birthday, little sister’s recital etc
Remember, everyone’s got to eat.
Family and occupation. It’s easy to get immersed in the main plot arc and forget your MC doesn’t live in a void. His or her life is still happening around them. Add reminders in your outline to include a scene or at least a phone call with someone from work, a friend or family member. Readers relate to juggling all those things. Your MC should too. Those cutie pies above are my kids. In the picture on the left, that was what they looked like when I first typed “How to write a book” into Google. The picture on the right is what they looked like this time last year. A whole lot happens while we’re writing. Don’t forget your characters have the same experience. Life keeps moving forward around them despite whatever they are facing personally. Use your outline to remind yourself to make reference to the people and events in your characters’ lives that impact them. The story doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
•Relatable. Readers understand love relationships. Use this to connect them to your MC
•Nothing complicates things faster than a little well placed chemistry
•If romantic tension plays a role in your novel, add that into your outline
–Main arc: layer in the building tension
–Side plot: pepper in the confusing/conflicting emotions
–Use it to further the story, burden the MC so they can be victorious later
Romance may not be your genre. Romance might not have any relevance to your story, but if it does, even in a remote way, you can plot reminders into the outline. This helps you remember they’re happening. There’s nothing worse than starting a story arc and dropping it. Readers will remember something was unfinished and they won’t love you for it. So, consider a romance thread or your MCs romantic connection, and drop a few bullet points in your outline as reminders to address the romance. Romance is a great way to give your character problems everyone can understand.
More in the next post on outlining. Again, please let me know if you have any questions about how you can use outlining in your novel. I’m here to help!
Now that you have an outline set up, fill it in with anything you want to reference as you begin writing. The more details you tell yourself now, the easier words will flow later when time is short.
Cast of Characters
•Establish the major players
•Are they a family? Friends? Neighbors? Strangers?
–Names & physical descriptions
–Personality flaws, attributes
Outlines are a good place to list your characters. You can figure out where the characters need to appear. Some often. Some in key positions only. This can be as simple as “H&H romantic encounter – she pulls away” or Parents arrive and ruin her dinner. You don’t have to write the whole scene, just place thoughts about the manuscript’s flow. Also, you know from those two references that her parents aren’t passive church mice, they ruined her dinner. You know a bit about their personality and their family dynamic in a few words. Also we know the heroine is hesitant about the romance or maybe a tease. Something makes her pull away.
Remind yourself to ad flavor, setting and senses
•Insert a reminder at every chapter heading
•As scenes change, so will the setting
•Incorporate the 5 senses for a rich, well developed scene
–What does your MC see? Visual cues.
–Is it warm or cold? Temperature, weather
–Scent. What’s in the air?
–What can your MC hear? Add background noise for depth
–How does your MC respond to the stimuli?
Use the outline as a reminder of the changes that come with a new scene: new setting, new sensations, new perspective. Add the 5 senses into as many scenes as you can – organically. In other words, don’t force it, but snap the opportunity up if you see it.
Writing as a pantser, in the moment, has its upsides, but barreling forward can sometimes cost you details and require more time in revisions looking for areas to deepen the POV. Make notes in your outline about the senses when you settings change.
Hope some of these outlining tips are inspiring a writer out there. If you have any questions so far, leave me a comment, I’d love to help!
Step One: The Bones
•Set a goal for final word count.
•Break that into chapters
•Build a framework
–I shoot for 80,000 words as a general rule.
–I like short chapters: 8-12 pages, approximately 2500 words/chapter
–This breaks into 28 chapters
Set up the bones. Open a word doc, title it outline and Make a capital I. Type Chapter One. Hit enter and II will appear. Word is smart like that. Now, keep doing that until you have the number of chapter headers you need for your manuscript. Now you have a frame work to work on.
Major Plot & Story Arc
•Chapter 1 is an intro/set up chapter & arguably the most important one of your novel
•Chapter 28 is a recap/wrap up chapter
•Who are your characters?
•Fill in the between chapters
–Major plot twists
–Action scenes / story revelations
Now I fill in what I know. In a romance, you need to introduce hero and heroine in the first chapter, some publishers want them to meet on the opening page. In a mystery you need to find a body in that opening chapter. First chapters are what the whole manuscript hinges on. Agents, editors and readers all agree, if chapter one doesn’t pull them in, the whole ship is sunk.
Start filling in what you know needs to be in the book. You can always move it later with a quick cut and past. At this stage it can feel like a putting a puzzle together, but unlike an actual puzzle, you’re in control of what the picture will look like when you finish.
Copyright © 2013 Musings from the Slush Pile - All Rights Reserved
Julie Anne Lindsey