How I Write – Evolving Outline

We’re now a bit past the middle of this crazy month of November. A lot has changed in the course of eighteen days. For one, I went from zero words on a story to over 50k, passing the midway mark to my 100k objective on November 14th (a day ahead of schedule, yay!) I thought it would be a good time to give you a bit more insight into the way I write and tackle a challenge like writing a complete first draft of a novel in a month.

Do you remember the post-its outline I showed you in October? Here’s a refresh in case you need it.

Seventeen chapters planned. Order, content and number may change.

Seventeen chapters planned October 30th. (click to magnify)

In the original post, I mentioned that one of the reasons why I like using post-its is because they give me great flexibility. As I write the story and uncover new things about the characters, I take post-its out, throw them away, replace them, switch the order; whatever is needed for my outline to reflect the new needs of the story. That’s why the original outline doesn’t have chapter numbers on the post-its. I want to feel like it’s okay to go off road and let the story wander away from the initial plan –because it is okay, needed, even. Most of the time, the plot still heads in the same general direction, and when it doesn’t, that’s alright, too.

Sometimes, I’ll adjust the post-its before I write the related chapter. Sometimes, I’ll write the chapter once, discover something new, throw it out and rewrite it right away, strong with my new understanding of what the characters and/or story needs. In this NaNo, I wrote chapter 4 twice, and chapters 5 to 7 three times. I just kept rolling with the punches and revising the outline until my story had a solid enough plot to keep me writing through the end. The chapters still have big issues –it’s important not to obsess over perfection for the first draft—but the intrigue isn’t going face first into a wall anymore.

Some writers are fine with ignoring broken chapters and skipping ahead. They’ll fix them in revisions. Personally, I get demotivated if the continuity is broken, so I need to figure at least that much out in the first draft. The rest, I’ll fix in revisions. 😉

This is what my outline looks like now:

Now twenty-one chapters and moving toward the middle of the first draft. May still change before the end.

Now twenty-one chapters and moving toward the middle of the first draft. May still change before the end. (click to magnify)

I’ve added chapter numbers on the chapters that are written, which serves as an additional burn-down chart of my progress. I’m about done with chapter 9 and will number it with great joy sometime today.

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About Aheïla

Somewhere in Quebec City, Aheïla works as a Game Design Director by day and writes by night. Known for her blue hair, unyielding dynamism and tasty cooking (quails, anyone?), she’s convinced “prose is the new crack”. She satisfies her addiction daily on The Writeaholic’s Blog and weekly on Games' Bustles View all posts by Aheïla

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