Posted: July 12, 2011 in Writing
Tags: , ,

I have been reading many people’s ideas on outlining, and a lot of people seem to break it down into two main camps. There are the ‘pantsers’ (does anyone else think of pantsing someone when they here this, or is it just me?) and there are the outliners.

Pantsers like to fly by the seat of their pants. No outline , needed there. “Just let everything evolve organically and you will be fine” is their motto. I’ve seen my pants, and I don’t want to fly with them. No way, no how.

Outliners love to outline. Roman numerals often dominate their early work. High school english teachers would rejoice at the completeness of their work. Such order and control. Details literally jumping of the page. Okay, maybe I meant figuratively jumping, but you get the idea. I can’t get detail to come out unless I am writing the actual story, so outlining is not what I do. At least not in the literal sense.

I web. That’s what I call it. Webbing. You see, I am very visual when I do anything, and my method of planning a story works on this aspect of my brain. Let me clarify:

I take a large sheet of paper. At least twenty inches to a side. I then place my main protagonist in the middle. One thing that I seem to do is always come up with my protagonist and antagonist fairly quickly. Anyway, I digress. I make sure to get some information about who the character is; desires, goals, details about the past. All of this is connected to the character with a line, and everything related to a single character is done in a specific color. I then do the same for the antagonist, and then I connect them to each other either in a black or red marker. I try to save those two colors for connecting characters.

I then come up with other characters and put them on the outside of the protagonist. Each character  gets some details and gets connected in. When a detail pertains to more than one character it gets connected to both.

I also start to think of the events my story is going to have and make connections to the characters I expect it to affect.

Then I start writing. I refer to my now very colorful piece of paper and let the words flow. When I need to jump start my writing I work on one of the details I have not included yet. When creativity gets the better of me and I add something new to the storyline I make sure to add it to my chart and connect it. One thing I make sure of is that all the items on the chart connect to more than one character in some way. If it doesn’t I assess how important that detail is to the overall story. If the story could work without it, I toss it.

What I like about my method is that it is very organic in its own right. The whole thing grows as I add things. Sometimes it is a word or phrase. Sometimes it is a badly drawn picture. It also is very stable looking.I can tell where my weak points are by looking at were there are not alot of connectors. It allows me to add in more details as needed to make it all work.

There is  my method for you all to ponder over. It works for me. I have nearly 40000 words written, and my previous best barely topped 5000 before I lost focus. Here is my thoughts on the pros and cons.

Pros: Very visual. Allows for a good amount of planning. At a glance analysis of weak and strong areas. Used by Jason McMurray :). Organic and freeing with structure and focus.

Cons: Takes up space. I devote four square feet of my wall to this, sometimes more as things occur. Can be confusing if you don’t plan it well. Not super detail rich, you need to be able to generate as you go.

  1. catwoods says:

    Thanks for subscribing to my blog. I love that I get to meet new people and appreciate you taking the time to introduce yourself.

    Now to your post…I’m also a visual person, so can you show us a picture of what your web looks like?!?!?

    Additionally, I’m a total pantster–currently still in my jammies–except on series ideas. That’s a whole ‘nother beast. I’m guessing your web would work well for that and am already visualizing what that would look like.

    Thanks for the idea!

  2. jmcmurray says:

    I will try to take a picture of it. The markers I used on this last one are a bit light, so I am not sure how it will turn out. Also, the handwriting is atrocious. Good luck making anything out 🙂

  3. Marcia says:

    There’s that handsome face! I like your webbing idea and think I’ll try it with my next book. I used outlining this time because I’m a list-writer anyway. I also used a timeline for births, deaths, marriages, major moves and events. it helped keep it all straight for me. But I like the image of connecting the characters and events to the protag and antag, sort of like a story in pictures. Thanks Jason, and I’m happy for your progress!

  4. jmcmurray says:

    I have a feeling that if I was doing a more historical piece that I would outline a fair bit more. There is a time and place for just about everything.

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