Tag Archives: how to write from an outline

Storybuilder Inc. — Step 12: Revision 201

In the last step, about the basic principle for effective revision I use, but now I will spend another four steps outlining 5 tips, with increasing complexity each week, before moving on to the final steps, 13 and 14, highlighting five key steps, in order of increasing complexity.

For a complete guide of all Storybuilder steps, including a list of posts to come, CLICK HERE.

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Tip 1: Avoid those little fixes

Some writers prefer many drafts and proceed on good faith that the prose will work themselves out as the layers add up and they get more familiar with the story. This means leaving weak sentences and misfit paragraphs in place, trusting on good faith that they will come together as you churn through draft 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and so on. I will make the assumption that you have been following this workshop and have tried to write your story using the principles outlined during the drafting phase (Step 8).

This means you have worked carefully using your frames and have invested approximately 1-2 hours / 1000 words of draft. This means your overall prose are well-developed, as are your scenes. It means you can delegate your work into two distinct phases: revision, which involves larger changes, and polishing, which deals with all those “little fixes” (I will talk about polishing in Steps 13 and 14).

As I mentioned in last week’s post (Revision 101), the goal of revision is to bring your draft in sync with your story. This means having scope and perspective to make large changes and appreciate them beyond the actual words on the page. Fussing with your prose to perfect them, therefore, will steal the large scope you otherwise need to achieve effective revision.

Tip 2: Use your post-draft outline

In step 11 we invest quite a bit of time in going over our story and writing an outline that divides your manuscript into it’s smallest components. The process of creating this outline and filling it in meant rewriting the former outlines you developed and telling your story in bullet form so you can appreciate angles that the prose otherwise might hide.

Use the post-draft outline sub-frames to direct you. Each of these sub-frames is anchored in a given frame, which will help you appreciate how each sub-frame develops themes relevant to your premise. The sub-frame sheet allows you to write out background information that doesn’t appear in the draft and allows you to look for inner and outer turning points so you can see if your story in this place moves in a way that is compelling to your reader.

Tip 3: Don’t let the draft lie to you

Your draft is what you wrote. Think of it as a discovery. Think of it also as a lot of uncharted territory and false labeling as you attempted to make sense of what you actually encountered.

Your outline was your map from which you planned your trip carefully before starting your draft, but it couldn’t prepare you for every tangle of underbrush, pitfall, and the layout of enemy tents. When you did your drafting, you went out reconnoitering, and wrote out exactly what you saw.

Now you’re back with detailed data and it’s overwhelming. You wrote down everything you encountered, but it was dark, and you didn’t know what you were actually seeing. That underbrush you encountered was actually tripwire, and you’re lucky you get caught in it. And those enemy tents—guess what? They were actually your allies, so the plans for attack you formulated while on your way back would have made the war a lot messier.

Your draft is a best guess, and, if done well—if you write slowly and take the time to truly discover the story—you’ll have all the details right. For the most part.

Your post-draft outline is a chance to go back to the map, consult with intelligence and other reports, and put all the details together so that your detailed account of the terrain is in fact correct.

Then you’ll be ready for attack.

(Aka sending out to a publisher. Yep, it’s a tough market.)

Tip 4: Leave yourself notes and time to think

So your draft lies to you here and there and you have to change your plans. Don’t change them too quickly. Those tents that you are told are allies might be neutral. That matters when you’re planning war.

Similarly, the subplot that makes no sense might work with the fix you come up with as soon as you spot the problem, but there might be a better fix that will come to you as you continue to hop around your sub-frames and consider the various angles. See the whole picture. Don’t just think about the problem in sub-frame 19.2. Think about how that problem pokes its head up in 11.2, 13.4, 16.7, and 23.3, and leave notes in those spots that will be easy for you to get back to using the “find” feature in your word processor. (I like to use text in square brackets between paragraphs, and anchors.)

Mastering revision involves lots of restraint. Like the art of mastering drafting, it, too, requires more thought than writing. While you might spend 1-2 hours / session of revision at the computer, and do this for many months, during this phase your mind will be spinning all throughout the day and these are problems you will no doubt be taking to bed.

Tip 5: Layer in your rewrites

The goal of the revision phase is to get away from linear revision. This means you should not feel like you have to go  through your notes from the beginning to end when you address those parts of your manuscript that need a tune-up.

Think of this as a visit to the chiropractor. (This workshop started with a posture analogy, right?) If you’ve made it this far, you’ve done a lot of work, and I bet you have lots of knots in your back.

Now, a chiropractor doesn’t go over your whole back, bottom to top, again and again. She might go over it once to feel where there are the most subluxations. Crack. Crack. Crack. That’s your middle back, by the way. Maybe there were a few in your lower back, and a few in your neck, but every time she gets to your middle back it’s like you’ve turned into a bag of Orville Redenbacher.

That’s where your chiropractor spends most of her time, and similarly you, as writer, need to spend most of your time where it matters, layering in all your rewrites until there are no more things that are out of alignment with your post-draft outline.

Next week

Revision is important. It’s the time when your story comes out of the cocoon and spreads brilliant butterfly wings of gold and purple and scarlet. You can always do more of it, but at some point you have to stop. It’s not meant to be endless, which is why it’s important to have a method, even if there is madness in it.

My goal with this workshop is to give you all a resource to help you complete your projects, and so I will spend more time on revision. Next week comes revision 301: 5 more tips that will help you deal with all those popping vertebrae.

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Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. He is the author of The Pact and is an editor for Champagne Books.

Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 8: Drafting 3, Layering and Scoping

In the last step on drafting I talked about ways to keep your draft on track as you move from start to finish. Everything up to step 7 has helped you prepare, and hopefully the last two steps have given you some good grounding as you do the actual writing. This week and next I will talk about some final drafting strategies to help you reach the end of the drafting phase and arrive successfully on the other side, where revision awaits.

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Shaping a story

I mentioned two weeks ago that writers approach drafting either as drafters or potters. Here’s where the latter term might be better appreciated. Potters work with one ball of clay, shaping it, moving pieces around as the object of choice (say, a mug) comes together. Once you have the rim formed, you might decide it’s a bit uneven, so you push some clay up with your thumb carefully, until you are satisfied.

Drafters do the same thing, but might not do this reshaping until they are writing new drafts. Either way, at some point a writer must deal with layering.

Placing anchors

Last week I shared some tips on how to stay connected to your outline as you write. One of these techniques involved moving around your document to break free on those days where the writing just doesn’t want to start up. While this is a great way to escape from writer’s block, it isn’t the only reason it’s useful. It’s also the core of layering.

To achieve effective layering, it is good to place several anchors in your manuscript as you type it. (If you are a drafter and you don’t type your earlier drafts, then this stage can apply to you when you reach the typing phase.) So, what is an anchor?

Here’s a picture to give you the idea: You’re a cartographer on a boat, crossing an ocean with the intent of mapping out a series of islands (yes, writing your story might as well be that big a feat). On your way, you encounter a spot that you realize is important and you may want to get back to it many times. But, aw, shucks! you have to keep sailing. Fortunately, it’s the twenty-first century and you have radio beacons that broadcast to GPS and will help you get back to those spots without any trouble. So, you drop them in the water and drop an anchor from each one so they don’t drift.

Now, let’s apply that to your story. Let’s say this is Ren’s story (the elderly revolutionary from our earlier outlining). I’m writing a scene where she is kidnapped in the market square during her “invitation” to become Mad Bert’s  seamstress. Except, just before this happens, she spots a guy named Harrold Fletcher, and I don’t know where this guy came from (one of those surprises that I spoke about last week). I make sure to give him a profile page, and write out a few places later in the manuscript where he will come back. I might write: He’s a cats-paw for one of the nobles who wants the king assassinated, and Ren’s abduction, arranged by the same noble, is an opportunity for him to use her to pull some strings. He doesn’t expect she’ll fall in love with the king, though.

I’m going to keep writing and might forget about Harrold in the market. I can always search “Harrold”, but what if at this time he’s just “a man”? What if Ren’s obsessed with this market and so the word “market” occurs 45 times in the manuscript prior to the abduction? I could remember something about the scene, maybe the type of dress Ren was wearing. Right. Now, was it wool? No, the wool dress was the opening. Silk? Or the one with slashes of red that she enjoys wearing in the fall? See, Ren loves dresses and has a whole variety of them (she’s a seamstress, after all).

See the problem? You can rely on your memory, or you can take advantage of your twenty-first century GPS pods. Something to the effect of:

[*a]

Say, a for anchor. The point is, if you create a unique combination of symbols that you will remember, then you need only type these in the search box to find your desired passage.

Anchors are very useful, and are easy to remove once your draft is revised (simply use find / replace and make them vanish). You can develop your own system with them. For example, I have a code sheet that I use as I drop various ones to keep track of how certain plots develop through key conversation exchanges or uncanny actions. You might try something like:

[*symbol] wherever you are using a symbol to highlight a theme, or [*Angela] for a subplot involving a character Angela (who you first meet as a man). Use anchors, lot of anchors. The more you drop, the more you can take a strategic hop through your manuscript as you develop it and work in various layers.

Scoping

This leads us naturally to another aspect of shaping your manuscript. You made use of scoping when you outlined, right from the development of your premise. First you viewed your whole story in a sentence, then in a paragraph, then in a few pages, then in several, with accompanying profiles to handle the growing complexity. Finally, you zoomed in to 100% with a fresh memory of how the whole tale looks.

The strategies I discussed over the last two weeks give you good tools to keep you connected with your outline, and this is important as you consider each frame as its own story within your story. Using anchors to layer your manuscript with elements from earlier frames will help you to work with your outline notes in a way viewing those original blueprints will not. After all, when you’re building a house, you keep looking at the blueprints to make sure you’re on track, but it’s the actual house coming together that serves as the true reference for how the project is actually progressing.

Good examples of layering and scoping

What if you (like me) are writing a fantasy epic? This means you might have frequent references to the history of your world, or details about it that you want to make sure are consistent. This is also something you will want to layer into your manuscript effectively.

A good anchor might be: [*world]

Let’s rewind to when I was on frame 17 of my current project, where several Goblins were making negotiations around the table, smoking their cigars and referring to events in the Mountainlands. Goodness, there was a lot of references and development there. I was quite creative. But, I was also smart. Every time I sat down with this scene, I typed “[*world]” in the find box and had a quick look at all those anchor points, to give me a sense of the scope of this element and allow me to make use of earlier material and layer it in.

Another situation I encountered in the same scene: I’ve done my search to prepare for it, but during the conversation my goblins hint, between the lines, that an earlier event might be more than it seems. (Let’s not spoil the ending, since this is The Pact’s sequel I’m referring to.) The earlier scene is hard to find based on the words in that passage, but fortunately I have the anchor [*DD] – DD being the initials of the conspirator behind that particular plot. This comes in handy, not just for finding that scene, but because I’ve put those anchors all over the place wherever I’ve developed this subplot. Now, when I search for the scene to make sure I don’t contradict myself, I can also get ideas from other parts. It’s layering and scoping all over again.

Let’s say you don’t write fantasy but are writing Bob’s story (our marathon runner). You might use [*mem] as an anchor for whenever Bob remembers a bit more about his departed wife. You might use [*dev] for any passage where Bob and his nemesis develop their relationship together. You might use [*fore] in any parts where you want to subtly foreshadow the end. Or maybe you don’t like square brackets and asterisks, so you’ll have {!elem}. It really doesn’t matter so long as you remember what the anchors are.

Oops, I forgot!

What if I didn’t know about a subplot when I made the first reference to it? What if that scene was just a memory in a dream sequence and I intended, at first, to be completely random about it? Well, that’s just fine. In fact, the scene I referred to from my own novel was just that and only later, when I met the character from the hallucination again, did I finalize the details of the subplot. I had to hunt a bit for the scene, but when I found it I made sure to place an anchor there, which came in handy for the chapters of the climax that followed.

Layering and scoping are powerful techniques to help you keep your story fabric tight and to assist with the process of carefully weighing your decisions as you pull your prose out of the creative void.

Yet these tools are one hand clapping. Next week, we will talk about the other: team alpha.

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Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. His his first story, The Pact, is now available for

KoboKindle, and other ebook formats through Burst Books.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog:

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