Repost: The Outline

(Originally posted Wednesday, February 22, 2006)

I know I’ve said in different places that I tend not to make outlines, but that’s only partially true. There comes a point in the process of writing the story that I suddenly realize I have to at least tentatively plot the rest of the book.

Saturday I finished a very rough, very sketchy draft of Chapter 13, and with that reached the end of Part 1. After that I realized I had to plot the rest of the book. Until this point I’ve had stacks of index cards sitting around my desk. Stacks of things that might happen, or could happen, or will happen to Abramm. Stacks of things for Maddie. And Trap. And Carissa. Smaller stacks for others. Periodically I go through them and try to sort, but it’s usually very difficult, because they aren’t all even events. Sometimes the note is just of someone’s general mindset. Or it’s a note on the background situation. Or even a description. It might be a line of dialog that could really go anywhere. I probably have about six inches worth of stacks. Maybe more.

This sort of thing is very hard to order, and often I end up laying a batch of cards out on the desk in no particular order. I arrange a few of them together, shake my head over the rest, then give up and go back to whatever early chapter I was working on.

But eventually I have to know more clearly where I’m going and that happened last weekend. So for the last two and half days I’ve been taking the cards and putting them into a list. If I try too hard to put them into an ordered list, I will freak myself out. So I just require that I put them on the list, and assure myself I will deal with the ordering later. I got this idea from a book called Overcoming Writing Blocks, out of print now, unfortunately. It’s the one that suggested I make the index cards of Whatever Occurs to Me in the first place. And at this stage in the process it informs me that “a frequent cause of blocking is the confusion that ensues when you try to hold the entire pattern in your head at one time.” Amen, to that!

So you just sit down and you start listing your notes. “Once you’ve made the transfer from cards to list,” says the book, “you will automatically begin to engage that powerful ranking faculty everyone possesses: certain entries will begin to stand out from the page… others will naturally fall into secondary positions, to cluster around more important concepts that they support…” And how about this? It works.

I now have about 10 pages of plotline. Which is a good thing. The bad thing is that I’ve got waaay too much. So much, it makes me want to hyperventilate. So much, I have to back off, and put it all in the Lord’s hands. I don’t know how He’s going to do it, but somehow He will bring order to all this. And it’s a good thing, because from where I sit at the moment, it looks downright impossible!

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