I’m working on another book now–a middle-grade novel–and I’m using a very different technique for drafting and outlining it. You see, my problem with a lot of books has been that I’d get twenty or thirty or fifty thousand words into it, and then I’d discover that there’s just not that much there. But, on the other hand, I’m a terrible outliner. I write these outlines and then they just don’t correspond to anything. There’s no way to turn them into a book.
So I decided that this time around my way of outlining was that I was going to carry around all these slips of paper, and whenever I thought of a scene I’d write it down. And then, after I’d accumulated a few dozen scenes, I’d sit down and try to assemble them into a book.
The key constraint is that what I put onto paper had to be a scene: people in a place, doing things. It couldn’t be something like, “He fails and then he gets sad.” It has to be, “He walks through town, remembering what it used to be like.” You know, something dramatic and visual. Which is not necessarily a good approach for outlining a novel, because in a novel it is possible to have long expositional chunks and for that exposition to be pretty interesting. But it’s what I decided to do.
I have no idea whether this is a good or effective way to write a book. I suspect that it will, like all my other great ideas, eventually prove to be ineffective (i.e. I bet this book will collapse like all the others). What it is, though, is extremely fun.
Because when you lay out these strips of paper, you’re actually laying out an entire book!
The novel is an MG novel, and it’s probably going to come in at less than 50,000 words, so we’re only talking 40 or 50 scenes (which makes it a good test run for this technique), and I can’t tell you how powerful it is to look down at your table and see the entire book–every character and every scene laid out.
And then, if you have problems with it, you can just start picking up scenes and moving them around. Or, even better, throwing them out entirely. At this point, I have a stack of discarded scenes that’s as large as the number I’m using (and I’ve thrown away–as in literally thrown into the garbage–at least that many again.)
That’s what I did today. I’ve reached the midpoint of the book, and there was a certain slackness. This is the part in a novel where the main character goes back, faces their personal demons, and emerges stronger (i.e. when Luke goes into the cave in Dagobah). But I had no idea what the demons were (other, than, you know, the literal demons that are in my story). But instead of laboriously writing my way through it, I looked at my chits of paper and was like, “Oh, here! That’s where I should’ve inserted some demons. So, step one, write in some demons. And then step two…write the rest.”
And once I realized what the demons were, I also had to completely rewrite the second half of the book, including my planned ending. But that was okay! Because I hadn’t actually written it yet!
Anyway, we’ll see. Now I have to actually finish writing this thing.