This week brought about an excellent opportunity to break out my Happy Dance Shoes and kick up my heels in ecstatic, delirious, over-the-moon-with-elation joy because The Outline is complete.
As you may remember, several weeks ago I had to break the sad news that Book Three of my fantasy series will not be published this year as promised. Okay, this was only sad news to the three people who read my books, but still we don’t need any more sadness heaped on this world, do we?
The problem was that after Book Two I only had a vague notion of where the rest of the series was headed. Vague as in, “I know how it ends but I don’t know how to get to the ending.” I wanted to cover several story lines but had no clue of how they would tie together, which could end up making the series just a mish mash of re-imagined myths, not a well-rounded story.
I thought I could push through and continue cobbling together Book Three hoping everything would fall into place, but it just wasn’t. I realized, with some advice from my social media world, I needed to set everything aside and get things sorted out. I needed an outline, and not just the half-page outline per book that I had, but a full outline from beginning to end.
First Steps in a Looonnnnnngggg Process
The first course of action was to create a timeline for myself. This was going to be a lot of tedious work. Work that couldn’t be done in a single day, or even in a week, but work that I wanted to complete prior to The Vacation. So, I created an eight-week plan listing each step that HAD to be done.
The next step? Conduct a little interview…with myself. Part of my problem was that I had oodles of unanswered questions and plot lines that needed addressed. So, like any good journalist, I wrote out every hard-hitting question I could think of and then didn’t let my interviewee relent until all those questions had been answered in depth. The result was twelve handwritten pages of answers…I felt like I was back in school doing an essay test.
However, I left my exam/interview feeling much more aware of where my series needed to go and what the characters needed to do to get themselves there. Yay!!
Who Are You And What Are You Doing Here?
To create a complete outline, I knew I needed to understand what my characters would be up to over the course of the series. So, next on the to-do list was to list every single character I could think of (from gods to humans, and monsters to titans). I ended up with over 80 characters…all of whom would get their own outline.
There was no way around it; I jumped in with a plan to complete the outline of four characters each day. Amazingly, I stuck to this plan and managed to finish this “pre-outline” in a few weeks.
Oh No, Now What?
I was now down to the scary part. I had to turn all those character outlines into The Big Outline. To be honest, I had no idea how to do it. I knew I had to figure out what should happen in each book (there’s four more to write), but I had 45 pages of character outlines to organize. Impossible, right?
For a while my brain simply shut down.
Suddenly, my brain started working again (could have been the three cups of coffee) and I started jotting down mini-outlines for each of a few major story lines. I then meshed together these mini-outlines to figure out an overall sequences of events.
Licketty split, I had the events that needed to happen in each book sorted out. I then broke out my trusty set of colored pens, assigned each remaining book a color and set about to put a color-coded check mark next to every line in my character outlines. All this in a single day’s work!
Why, Why Was I So Thorough?!!
Unfortunately, to have something that would be easier to work from, I needed to convert those 45 pages of outline into something more user-friendly. So, line by line, page by page, I transcribed everything onto notecards.
I ended up with a two and a half inch-thick stack of cards and the whole time I was cursing myself for being so thorough with those damn character outlines! I now thoroughly appreciate all the monks in the Dark Ages who transcribed giant tomes in an effort to preserve and share knowledge. Thank you monks.
The best news, though? I finished everything a week ahead of schedule!!! Talk about a reason for a Happy Dance!
Besides going out and planting a few dozen trees to make up for all the paper I’ve used, my next step is to simply put everything aside. I know from experience that I will not get any writing done on vacation (believe me, I’ve tried), so the cards will have to stew until I get back. Then, hopefully my efforts will be worth it and the next four books will fall into place a bit more smoothly.
Any major accomplishments for you this week? How do you approach a huge and scary task? Go ahead and share in a comment or simply join me and this YouTube kitten in a Happy Dance!