So I wrote the first draft of this novel in November 2015. It's now October two years later and finally, finally, I have an outline. I figured it was time. Way past time.
You may recall that I already have one and a half drafts of this story, and I've been thinking about it for over two years, so it's not like I was starting from scratch without a single idea. But I knew there were things that needed changing and I knew I needed a real outline before I started on the next draft. The last thing I want is another meandering draft with terrible pacing and a flat story arc. So, as I often do, I turned to my books.
I marked pages with sticky tabs and wrote notes like I was back at uni working on an essay. These books did get me thinking more about how plot and structure work within a story but I was still struggling to actually write an outline. I just couldn't figure out the actual events that needed to happen in my story and none of these books could help me with that.
If you read my last writing post you'll know that I ended up spending a while working on other things anyway, leaving these books on the side of my desk for months, intending to get back to them soon and finish that outline. Because, of course, I also had pages and pages of attempted starts to outlines, aborted efforts at figuring out what the heck needed to happen to these characters. I tried the snowflake method, and the one-page method, and any other methods I could find online that promised to help me figure out those story events. None of them worked.
Then, just a couple of weeks ago, I remembered an old youtube video that I had started to use for another story years before. I remembered at the time thinking this method made a lot of sense, but it hadn't quite fit the story I was working on. Maybe it would fit this one?
It worked like a dream. This method breaks down the standard three act structure into 9 blocks and 27 chapters. Or, as I used it, 27 plot points. I wrote a skeletal outline using the 27 points in this video (they didn't all fit perfectly but close enough) then I added some muscle. I wrote a more detailed outline, including those points, but also including every single other thing that needs to happen to link those points together. That outline is currently 2,378 words long and I'm sure it will keep growing. Finally, I wrote a chapter outline: just one sentence summing up the main event of each chapter, to keep me on track while I write.
Using the method in this video, and then embellishing on the results in more detail, helped me come up with so many great new ideas for this story. I've worked out plot holes, tightened things up, wound things together. In short, all the things I wanted to do when I first tried to write that second draft.
Maybe if I had done an outline to begin with my first two drafts wouldn't have been such disasters, but I doubt it. I needed those 100,000 useless words to get to know the story and the characters. The plot I had in mind two years ago and the one I'm about to start writing now are so vastly different and this one is so much better! Now I can write the good stuff.