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.