Catching up and Plotting Out

Lately my life has been a blur of landscaping jobs. I’m trying to get all my customers taken care of before my surgery. I come home so exhausted that even reading other peoples’ blog posts takes more energy than I want to expend, and writing one of my own is pretty much impossible. I don’t know why I’m such a wuss these days, but I suspect working while in pain is particularly draining. At least that’s what some people tell me. My husband says I’m getting old. But if I am, that makes him methuselaic, since he graduated high school the year I was born.

I feel like I’m slipping behind on all my “inside” duties, but one thing I have managed to do is work on Full Throttle, my next book. I’m not doing a lot on it, just sorting through plot ideas. In the mornings before work I type up the stuff I came up with the day before. One nice thing about landscaping is it gives a person plenty of time to think.

The hard part is figuring out how to organize this information. As I  looked over my long list of bullet points, I was stymied by the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to collate them into anything resembling a working plot. This is always one of the hardest parts of outlining. But this time I got the idea to group the plot points into separate lists by character, which was essentially the same thing grouping by subplot, since each character has his or her own arc. Once I did that, things started to fall into place. If you’re the outlining type, and you’re having trouble, you might consider a similar approach.

Something that helped in clarifying the plot was deciding what each character’s motivation, goal, conflict and epiphany was. This is something I hit upon while researching the Snowflake Method. Though I ultimately decided that method wasn’t going to work for me, this particular step was useful. It was kind of tough to figure these things out for a couple of characters, but once I did, I realized that all this ambiguous stuff floating around in my brain actually fits together. Things I thought were unrelated and might have to be abandoned were connected after all. Apparently my subconscious is smarter than my conscious. Go figure.

Here’s the deal about outlining. I know some people hate it because they wind up staring at the screen, unable to fathom where the story might possibly be going. I’ll admit, that’s pretty intimidating. I can’t force the ideas to come just by telling them to, either, so I don’t do it that way. Instead, I write down bits and pieces as they come to me. Some  are jotted on paper throughout the day. Others  are captured on my digital recorder while I’m walking. Still others are cut and pasted from emails I send to my writing friends (it’s amazing what comes to you when you’re not under the pressure of officially “trying”). But maybe the biggest thing is that I don’t rely on only myself for these ideas. I brainstorm with my friends and husband. I steal bits from my own experiences, and, like the pieces in Tetris, twist them around and drop them into place. And sometimes I borrow from other sources. For example, just yesterday I realized that something someone said in a Facebook comment to my last post was exactly what one of my characters needed to learn (thank you Linda Goertz! ) The point is, for me, writing an outline isn’t a matter of sitting down at the computer until the whole story pours itself out. It’s a more organic process that takes place over time, utilizing a variety of sources. For those of you who would like to attempt an outline, but haven’t quite been able to make it work yet, I hope that sharing these ideas helps.

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7 Responses to Catching up and Plotting Out

  1. Roxie says:

    Ok, you’re starting to make outlining sound possible. And asking those questions about my characters will be a great way to go with the re-write. I don’t mind re-writes at all. It’s just tweaking the finished product.

    And that’s whay they make chocolate and vanilla. Different people like different things.

    Yes, working/living in constant pain is completely exhausting. You. Are not – NOT! A wuss. If anyone else were as mean to you as you are, you’d kick their butts!


  2. That’s pretty much how I do things, too. I have ideas jotted down and I brainstorm. Then I do the characterization for my main characters (which isn’t done in the same way that most writers do it). This generates more ideas for the story. So when I start the outline, I pretty much know how it’s going to go (though sometimes I suprise myself).

    Good luck with everything … especially the surgery. I hope you have a speedy recovery. 🙂


  3. Elisabeth Miles says:

    I think my method is more or less like that. I think about the characters, then “interview” them, letting them talk about themselves, their goals and aspirations, what they think of the other characters. A lot comes out of that! I jot notes, ideas, weird stuff, and when it finally starts to jell, I write “I want to write a story, poem, blog entry, essay or novel about…” and start writing a present tense synopsis.

    That is the beginning of the “outline” that then grow and becomes something I can work with. I don’t do all the steps for each type of writing.

    I do leave room for surprises, however. And in this novel I’m still (interminably) writing there have been some doozies.



  4. Kaia says:

    Hi Lisa!! I just want to thank you!! I am trying to write a book right now and your advice has helped me think about things!!! I think I will finally start the first chapter!!!


  5. Great post, Lisa! As you know I’m not an outliner, but I realize I do a lot of this anyway. Maybe I’m just not writing it down! 🙂 Your point about clarifying each character’s arc, motivations, etc. is fabulous.


  6. Alice Lynn says:

    You are truly a great advocate for the outlining approach to writing. If only I could learn to do that. You inspire me though. Maybe the next book!
    Oh, and by the way, you are noway close to a “Wuss.” You are one tough, determined lady!


  7. Lisa Nowak says:

    Roxie, I can’t understand not minding re-writes. I hate them. Not the editing, but the cutting. But I appreciate that some people hate outlining worse than cutting.

    Stina, now you’ve made me wonder how you do characterization. I wind up surprising myself, too, while I’m writing. I think it’s important to be flexible when something better than the original idea comes up.

    Beth, I haven’t tried interviewing the characters yet. Maybe I’ll do that on the book after this one. Or do it with some of the minor characters in Full Throttle who I don’t really know yet.

    Kaia, I think it’s so cool that you’re writing a book. Feel free to email me if you have any questions. If you look in the “writing” category on in the right sidebar you’ll find other posts about my writing process.

    Chris, I’m always amazed at how much organizational work you do in advance for someone who’s not an outliner. Maybe it’s just the term itself that’s objectionable.

    Alice, you know I’m always here as a brainstorming partner if you decide to give outlining a try.


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