Outlining Pants (part 2)

Once all the items are gathered, what’s the starting point?

Some people like to begin with the characters, answering in-depth questions about them and creating individual profiles that (should be and sometimes) are realistic and interesting.

Others begin with the locations. Places of interest on a map or, more broadly, the environments in which their story is planted.

Me? I typically begin with a concept, a spark that fans the fire of my storyline. From there, my outlining methods resemble the snowflake method, mostly. I develop my concept in more detail, often adding sentences that span new ideas and background stories. If the mood strikes, I start describing the back story of one of the characters.

Often, my outlines are half story and half worldbuilding, which can sometimes feel overwhelming. If I’m not careful, too much back story eats up the present story, and now I have a prequel series to consider!

That’s where my tools, described in Part 1, come into play! At some point, I force myself to look at all the incoherent scribblings and create a timeline of all major world events. I add in the small events at the character level, tweaking the story as I go.

Because I have many, many characters, I also keep a tab handy with everyone’s ages. That allows me to plan out events and scenes across decades of storyline, without worrying if a character’s age makes sense in that specific moment, or leaving fact-checking for a later stage.

… to be continued.


Outlining Pants (part 1)

Before I learned to love outlines and plans, my stories didn’t go very far. I have at least 20 started manuscripts – all just a few hundred words in. Sometimes I’d get stumped a few paragraphs into the story:

  • who was my protagonist anyway?
  • what did the environments look like?
  • what was I even trying to get across with my tale?

But I was a determined pantser, and the only item I obsessed over were names.

I made lists of names, lists of lists and delighted in saying the names outloud (you know, when I was alone, indoors somewhere, only, of course). I researched them, too. The ones that I liked best often had beginnings in Celtic folklore or Old English. This obsession with names came very handy when I was creating fake cities on maps or when tasked with naming my newest RPG character, but didn’t serve me too well in creating believable characters, because the only thing I knew about them was a string of letters.

So months ago, I decided that this year would be different. I never finished any of my stories before, and the definition of insanity being “expecting different results from the same ol’ actions” was starting to really worm its way into my thoughts. If NOT outlining my stories led me nowhere, then outlining them must at least get me somewhere else, even if it it’s just with a giant encyclopedia of my new world, with no actual storyline to tell.

What materials do I need for outlining? I wondered. I read a bunch of articles online, perused How To Be A Writer books, and sat in silence, pondering.

What I came up with was this short list:

  • a writing app – software, but do people even refer to them as such anymore? 😉 
  • a tri-fold cardboard – because I’ve never gotten over my love of Staples or September wishes of brand new school supplies
  • sticky notes, of various colors and sizesbecause if we don’t support 3M and all their spinoffs, who will?
  • pens and markers see above
  • a visionthis is really the most important part!


To be continued…

Chicken, Eggs and the Brits

Writing about writing; very meta.

Where to begin? Some would advise right in the middle of the action! Others prefer a slower introduction. Going back into the timeline too much, and I might lose myself.

So I’ll begin somewhere in between the beginning and now.

The first time I even thought about writing was when I was 11, in the 5th grade. My class had a visiting teacher from the UK – well, teacher-in-training, I guess. When I think back on that time, I only think of him as “British TA” but that’s mostly my college years sneaking in words and concepts. If I focus, sometimes his name comes back to me as Michael, but it doesn’t always feel fully right.

In any case, this British TA who may or may not have been named Michael, he had a passion for writing. I vividly remember writing in a small, thin notebook – the answers to his writing prompts – right there in class. I don’t remember the actual prompts, but I have foggy visual memories of what I wrote, the stories I spun.

I remember his smile, his accent and his twinkling eyes (and that mop of unkempt dark hair!) as he encouraged my serial story along. It was sci-fi (foreshadowing!) and a little bit “dark,” and he was intrigued, wanted to know more about my protagonist, how it would all turn out in the end.

And so did I!

Before then, I didn’t even like reading. Now, I can’t get enough of stories, of other people’s lives, adventures and worlds.

And, I devour books!

Trilogies? Bring them on!

Multi-book series? Yes, please!

I can’t figure out if my love of books and stories started because I began writing, or if my need to write came from reading, but I do know the two are intertwined, and their source spring is British TA Michael.

For that, I will forever be grateful to him.

Wherever you are, British TA Michael, I hope you are happy. You’ve changed my life for the better; a teacher success story if I ever heard one!