Almost Outlined: Working Past Mental Bottlenecking to Create a Killer Book Outline

Say your novel-to-be is about rock and roll—that much is clear—and you’re ready to outline. Or rather, ready or not, you need to outline. You sit down to your spreadsheet, blank Word doc, legal pad, or multicolored sticky notes, your head abuzz with story impressions: the thudding loudness and in-your-faceness of rock’s heyday; the rock modernists; some patchy character profiles; a main plot, three subplots, and fifteen mini plots; this idea you have to score some original rock tuneage and include it in the book—your music actually telling part of the story (not sure how—will figure out as you outline); this other idea you have to represent the dissent that frequently breaks up bands by telling your story not just in alternating narrative voices but alternating POVs; and . . . and . . . and . . .

By the time you’ve wrangled all your potential storytelling elements into focus, you’ll likely have not only scared yourself out of writing word one of your outline but also decided that you and three to four of your friends are the rightful heirs to Deep Purple and what the hell are you doing trying to make a book when you could be making music. And, hey, if that’s your route, go for it. The kids these day need good music.

deep_purple_1971
“Hush” is not a personal instruction. It doesn’t pertain to your writing. Outline on.

They also need good books. And if you intend to actually write, rather than think endlessly and vaguely about, one, you need to free yourself from the trap of trying to all-at-once decide how to handle characterization, plot, structure, POV, voice, style, and whether or not to include an original score.

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The Non-Jungle Book: Recapturing Your Story from a Plot Gone Wild

So, the outline of what began as a simple-enough story has become less a sturdy structure and more of a jungle, complete with tangled vines. All you remember doing is adding a reflective scene or two to lend your structure some satisfying symmetry; frosting your characters with a little more philosophy, a little more humor; taking mental notes as you listened to the news, read a great book, watched your favorite movie again, observed a breathtaking sunset, etc., each time thinking I’ll use this in my writing, and my writing will be richer for it.

And now here you are. A less-intrepid Mowgli in your own damned story.

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Mowgli chilling with wolves

Rescuing a comprehensible story that flows well from an outline gone jungly is possible. Here are some tips:

Continue reading “The Non-Jungle Book: Recapturing Your Story from a Plot Gone Wild”