Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Outlining’

Outlining (or Taking the Plunge or Going with a Plan)

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on April 13, 2014 at 11:30 am

I never used to outline stories or essays, preferring plunging into the writing process.

After having to sort through several messy, extensive edits, I realized I needed initial guidance as I let my work unfold to save time and energy later on for other writing.

When I began outlining, I came up with a premise for my story or novel and wrote a few rambling paragraphs, and then started writing. I changed my approach after I took a Meetup fiction class with Michael Soloway, a Fort Collins, Colo., writer, in fall 2014 and learned an outlining technique that starts with a 6-word story. The story is expanded to 150 words, then 500 and finally 3,000 before you begin writing your longer piece.

Soloway suggested writing the longer and longer versions of the story using Nigel Watt’s 8-point narrative arc, which Watt explains in his book, “Writing a Novel.”

The 8 points are Stasis-Trigger-The Quest-Surprise-Critical Choice-Climax-Reversal-Resolution. The main character experiences something that upsets her status quo, sending her on a search to return to normal, but she encounters obstacles along the way, has to make a critical choice that leads to the story’s climax and eventually her return to a fresh stasis.

In three plot points, it’s the inciting incident, rising arc and falling action.
I tried this approach with my latest work, and it worked, though my ending changed, because in this case, I needed to discover the ending from the middle and how my characters interacted with each other and the plotlines.

These are a few things I’ve learned about outlining:

• First, think about what your basic premise or idea is for the story. What will be your hook? How will you introduce your main character or characters? What will be the inciting incident?
• Identify a few of the big plot moments and what character actions or settings could complicate them. What does the character want and what plot complications stand in her way from getting that one thing?
• Think through characters and plotlines to see if you can sustain both to the end of the story.
• Consider the point of view, and think about the character’s back story.
• Find a setting that cannot be separated from the plot and eliminate any extraneous settings.

Finally, think of the outline as a suggestion that can be changed as you figure out what your story actually is about. Writing is a process and not a final product until the story is written and edited.

(This month, I’m blogging about the process of generating ideas and prepping for writing.)

Writing Organics, or the Case of Outlining or Winging It

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on December 2, 2012 at 11:00 am

There are two types of writers, those who outline and those who don’t.

The outliners plan out each chapter, as well as the entire structure of the novel from the beginning to the end. Their planning can include character biographies or sketches, storyboards of plot elements, and research notes of setting, character identity and the other elements of fiction.

Organic writers write as they go, letting the characters or storyline lead the way as the telling unfolds.

I’m an organic writer who needs a rough outline.

For my novel, “The Fire Painter,” which I am editing, I came up with an idea spark as I was sitting in a coffee shop nearly one year ago. I had thrown away a doggie piggy bank my late grandmother had given me because it had a crack, and then I had grieved the loss of a gift coming from love.

I took out my laptop and began writing about a character losing more than just one thing, but everything she owns in a house fire. I wanted to explore what she would do to retrieve her lost things and wrote out some random ideas on one page of paper.

A couple of weeks later, I began to write without knowing exactly where I was heading. A quarter of the way in, I figured out a possible ending without knowing exactly how I’d get there.

Halfway through, I wondered what I could possibly write next. I experienced the middle-of-the-novel slump that outliners, I believe, probably do not encounter as frequently or as deeply. They know where the novel is heading, as well as the purpose of each chapter that carries the plot to the ending.

Unlike the pure organics, I do some planning. At the end of each writing session, I sketch ideas for a few chapters, using the rough notes I initially wrote and add to them as well.

With outlines or rough notes, I find it best to think of them as a suggestion. I want to make sure to think through my main characters and plotlines, so that the story can be sustained over the span of a novel.

I basically want to get from here – an idea of the piggy bank – to there, or my 90,000-page rough draft that I finished in early December. It took me 11 months to turn a visual image into a story that, for me, means so much more than the gift from my grandmother, now that I’ve recreated it in words.