Tuesday 7 May 2013

How useful are outlines?

I've been working on my novel, The Painting recently. Occasionally I stop writing to reach into the mountain of books I've collected for research. This turned out to be worthwhile the other day when I read about Capability Brown's lakes. My fictional country house now has a lake which I'm using to my advantage in a key scene. This may change at a later date, but for now the lake is staying. Another reason why I stop writing (apart from to go on Twitter, Facebook, to write a blog post etc...) is to work on the outline.

I have a spreadsheet in excel for the outline with a row for each scene. For my novel, The Grandson, I divided the scenes into three acts on the spreadsheet. Then I filled in key scenes and added other scenes around them as I wrote/ edited.

On the spreadsheet there are columns for the following:

• scene number

• chapter number

• plot eg. Plot Point one, first encounter, mid-point etc as per Aristotle's Incline)/ subplot

• date (in the novel)

• point of view

• location

• 'what happens?' in a short sentence

• editing notes

• word count

Whilst writing the first draft, I'm not worried about chapter numbers, as I may move scenes around. Subplot will appear in subsequent drafts once I've sorted out the main plot. Although if I have an idea for a subplot as I write, I make a note of it on the spreadsheet.

I highlight the rows for each point of view in the same colour. When editing The Grandson, I initially worked on scenes with the same point of view together to ensure that I didn't repeat myself and so that those scenes told their own story.

Creating this outline allows me to apply some logic to the 'mess' which is the first draft and I would be lost without it. When editing, I use the outline all of the time as a reference and to plan the next day's work. 

Do you use outlines when writing?

I couldn't find a photo of a Capability Brown lake, but thought you might like this one of Lake Como from a few years ago.

Hope the sun is shining where you are. It's been lovely here recently and I'm finally wearing my sandals...