This is the third installment of my series on the writing process. Part 1 can be read here; Part 2 can be read here.

There are two kinds of writers, those who sit down to write and figure things out as they go along and those who outline. George R. R. Martin often calls the first group Gardeners and the second group Architects. The most extreme Gardener I’ve heard about is Stephen King who if I remember correctly keeps very little notes on most projects. The most extreme Architect I’ve read about is Peter V. Brett who often has an outline in the 200 page range (the size of some books). Most everyone else, like myself, falls somewhere in the middle.

When I first started writing I tried the “just sit down and write” approach and failed miserably. I ended up trashing about 10,000 words, saving only the names from a few characters and half a scene that I then carried over into my first book Rise and Fall (*cough* due to be released on December 1 *cough*). As much as I hated throwing away those words, it wasn’t a complete waste because I did learn that I needed to have some form of outline to work from when working on a story.

Here is my approach on how I outline:
1. Start with the main ideas – I do almost all of preliminary outlining with pen and paper so I can draw arrows as needed to move things around as I organize my thoughts. This is especially important in this stage as I’m often writing down tons of random thoughts about character personalities, character backgrounds, character relationships, conflicts, the world, major events I want to happen, random cool scene ideas, pieces of dialogue, and so on. In this stage, few ideas are off limits since I haven’t fully solidified my story based on the original idea.

2. Determine how long the story is going to be – Is this a short story, novella, stand-alone book, or series? Now is the time to decide. If I decide on a series like my current Blood and Tears trilogy, then I have to roughly break up which events need to occur in which book.

3. Who are my major and minor characters – This is important because if the story doesn’t have focus (especially early on), it’s going to fall flat. Therefore, I need to determine who is going to “tell” the story (my point of view characters). There may be some changes during the writing process but generally speaking they aren’t huge.

4. Start organizing the order of events into chapters – At this point, I open Word and type out the main points, copying and pasting as I need to so the order of events make sense. I’ll usually add and expand my original main points during this stage as I’m starting to get a better idea of how the story is going to unfold. Therefore, I might realize that it will take three chapters rather than the two I originally planned for a character to believably go through a certain change I want to happen.

5. Organize the events into multiple scenes if necessary – Once all the main chapters are in place, I’ll go back and start working in the details. For example, on Step 4, a bullet point might simply state Character A and B need to have a discussion about the events of the previous chapter. Or I’ve been as vague as “Insert awesome battle here.” Ha.

So, on this pass I make notes about what Character A & B are going to actually discuss and how to better set up the latter part of the story. Or, I will fine tune where the battle will take place, who the POVs are going to be, troop placement, how I want the battle to affect my characters and so on. This stage will also include a quick listing of all characters (major and minor) involved in the overall story. Then I write a paragraph which lists the main things that will happen to them in the book and how they will change from beginning to end.

6. Make sure everything makes sense – I then go through one last read through to ensure that a cool idea or thought in the third act is properly foreshadowed earlier in the book. It’s obviously much better to set this up now rather than after the first draft is done.

Conversely, I want to make sure that anything I start in the first third of the book isn’t forgotten and never addressed in the later part of the book. Granted I don’t always catch everything but I do the best I can.

So, that’s the general idea. When all is said and done, my outline is roughly 30-40 pages. Generally, there will be a couple of paragraphs and bullet points per chapter. The outline can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to get through, depending on the size of the story.

That being said, it is important to remember that this is an ‘outline,’ something to guide you along. It is not meant to pigeonhole you into doing something you realize isn’t working. I can almost guarantee that it will change on some level.

For example, in Rise and Fall, a major event occurs at the end of the first book that I originally planned to conclude the second book with. However, as I neared the end of the first book I realized that if I left things as they were, the first ending wouldn’t be as strong as I wanted it to be and also, too much would have to happen in the third book. Therefore, I made the decision and moved that event up in the story. As a result, Rise and Fall is a much stronger novel.

So, are you a Gardener or an Architect?


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