Writing
Outline Your Novel Using a Floating Outline
August 17, 2017
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As I’ve written a few times before, I’m a pantser who struggles with outlining. I’ve tried using beats from the famous screenwriting novel “Save the Cat.” I tried Libbie Hawker’s method from her book “Take Off Your Pants.” I’ve written a detailed synopsis and tried to extract a story from it with no luck. Why, if I’m a pantser, don’t I just write like a pantser?

In the ebook self-publishing world, volume of output matters and is a great harbinger on your chance of success. To be as prolific as I plan to be–put out a new book every 3-4 months–I’m going to need to write a shit ton of books in a short amount of time, and when you write pantser style, the rewriting process can take up to three times as long as the original first draft. I have no time for that. So what have I settled upon as my outlining method of choice?

Photo by Sticker Mule on Unsplash

It’s something I stumbled upon while watching one of Brandon Sanderson’s lecture videos and it’s called a Floating Outline. I’m not sure if I understood his process one hundred percent correctly, but the takeaway was more than enough to get me started and put my own little twist on things. Who knows, maybe I got it exactly right and am doing it just like Brandon?

In the larger view of things, I adopted Brandon’s approach: he outlines his plot and story but he discovers his characters as he writes. So he’s kind of a mix between a plotter and a pantser. He plans out his story in detail and then he goes to work outlining using the Floating Outline approach. Basically, he has a notebook full of “awesome” scenarios or scenes that he wants to happen in his book. I have come to call them “Plot Awesomes” (as I think about it, I think Story Awesomes would be better). The idea is to write out an awesome scene you want to happen in your book, say, the two lovers finally share a kiss. So that would be the header of that particular Plot Awesome. Underneath that, you start adding bullet points in backward order that would lead to your awesome scene. Let’s take a look at an example:

A & B Finally Kiss

  • A saves B’s life
  • B tells A to get out of B’s life
  • A and B end up in same location
  • A …

Those are just some quick and dirty examples off the top of my head. I would finish that list and then move onto the next Plot Awesome. Usually I’ll have a minimum of 4 Awesomes I want to happen. One is usually romantic in nature, the other serves the over arching plot, and then the rest are things that round out the story. I will then go back and edit them to make them a bit less general and more specific. So at the end, the idea is you have an awesome climax scene and the pieces it will take to get there. As Brandon says, he outlines backward but writes forward.

Using Scrivener, I then start creating Chapter folders and inserting at least one bullet point (starting from the bottom up), sometimes more, in each chapter. What’s cool is that they can be combined so that you are advancing two or more different Awesome plot points in the same chapter without it feeling forced. I then cross out the bullet points as I use them and create another Chapter folder and use one or more bullet points, cross it off, repeat. By the end of the outlining process, I have my entire book outlined and the several different plot points/story lines meshed together naturally.

This was the process I used for creating the first draft of The Chronicles of Talam #1. I would say I followed my outline pretty rigidly until I got 25% into the book then I started to deviate as the story took off on ideas of its own. I still had the outline to use as a foundation but I would say that by the end of my first draft, I would say I stuck with 50% of my outline and the rest came about as I wrote. This process seemed comfortable to me and it allowed more of my creativity to come out during the writing process than if I just started out in full pantser mode.

Anyone else use a similar method to outlining their novels?

David

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