[guest post] Writing Process: Outline by Sarah Canfield

Admin note: Sarah posted this to her blog, and I thought it would make an excellent guest post. Plus she’s far more clever and hilarious than me.

Writing Process: Outline, Guest Post by Sarah Canfield

So, a bit of backstory on who I am, who Carla is, and things like that.

Carla and I met online back in the days when everyone had a GeoCities site, and those sites were divided into districts, depending on the topic of your site – for example, hers was in Hollywood because it was about a movie.  Her nephew/our intern/bossy guy who keeps us from slacking off is actually the same age as our friendship (referred to as Intern).

I sent her a gushing email telling her she was awesome and I was going to stalk her until we were best friends, and I can’t remember exactly what she said in return, but it was very friendly and encouraging.  Then we bumped into each other on a mailing list.  She seemed pleased to see me, despite the threat of stalkage.  Since then we’ve followed each other to various places online (due to my stalking her to LiveJournal, I met my soon-to-be-hubby, but that’s another story).  We started co-writing back in 2001, and despite our very obvious differences (she’s American, she’s all about threatening atmosphere, delicious description and a ruthless addiction to plotting and outlines; I’m English, and into dialogue, strange characters, and a slap-dash approach to writing, which is basically: type something, see where it takes you), we seemed to click writing-wise.  Even back then, if you ignore the English/US spellings, it’s actually hard to see who wrote which chapter.

Carla has worked her tail off trying to get me to be a more functional writer.  After thirteen years, we’re at the point where she has got me as addicted to outlines as she is.

Our writing process for the outline is this:

  • Open a new doc in GoogleDrive.
  • Argue over what to call it.
  • Wait patiently while I format the document to my liking.
  • Waste ten minutes while I whine that “keep with next” is not an option in GoogleDrive.
  • Briefly outline that A plot, B plot and, if necessary, C plot.  Waste 60 minute coming up with wrestling metaphors for our plots/discuss the merits of Paul Heyman.  Get side-tracked for a further 30 minutes by either complaining about how Cena is booked, or speculating on what will happen next with The Shield (the wrestling stable, not the TV show).
  • Decide on POV characters.
  • Type the words “Chapter One”.  Then bold them.
  • Discuss wrestling until one of us reminds the other that we’re supposed to be writing.  This goes a lot faster if Intern is in the background, he will then set his timer for 30 minutes and want to know how many words/chapters we’ve done during this time.
  • Get chapter one done in a flurry of activity.  Until one of us mentions the wrestling.
  • Speculate on which wrestlers might not be opposed to being in the movie of our book.  Which we are currently not outlining.
  • Get stuck on chapter two or three.  Bitch about it.  A lot.
  • Revise chapter one, until two and three behave.
  • Suddenly get excited over the book, and outline 15 chapters.
  • Realise Character X has a different motivation.  Amend previous chapters accordingly.  Put notes in previous book outlines that this will require tweaking.
  • Sit back, all satisfied and check Ringside Confessions.  Discuss the contents from every conceivable angle.  Once more fangirl over the sheer presence and charisma of Paul Heyman.
  • Repeat as necessary.

I love the outlining process.  I get the same amount of satisfaction on a completed outline as I do on a completed book.

Carla and I are trying something new at the moment.  We are trying to outline an entire series (the UK horror series) before working on the books.  Books 1 and 2 are already written, but need revising drastically, given that we wrote them as stand-alones separately (Book 1 is mine, Book 2 is hers), before deciding they could work in the same universe.  With that in mind, we started outlining the whole series, so we couldn’t be blind-sided by later plots that develop that we didn’t see coming and should have seen – and more importantly, should have foreshadowed.  It’s an awesome process watching our world come together.

As an update on my last post, we have now finished the outline for Book 3, and have started 4.

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