It’s time to revisit the creation of Book Four in the Chicagoland Vampires series (tentatively titled HARD BITTEN). I previously talked about preparing and brainstorming, so now we’re moving on to the ever-important stage two: the outlining.
It’s a bit of a cheat to call outlining the second stage, as this is really a process that will continue all the way through stage three (the actual writing). Sure, I’ll start with an outline, but I’ll also revise and adapt the outline as I write the novel. Here’s generally how it goes:
1. The Document: I start with a blank document in Microsoft Word. The document will be divided into two parts. At the top of the page (in addition to the title), will be a “To Do” list. The rest of the document will be devoted to the actual outline.
2. The To Do List: This list takes the first position in the outline, because it’s where I’ll remind myself along the way of any details that still need to be added. It could be as simple as a word (“Darkening”) or a phrase (“add Mayor”). I’ll either strikeout or remove items from the list as I go along.
3. The Day-by-Day outline: The rest of the document is comprised of a day-by-day outline. I organize on a daily basis because the day/night distinction is important in both the CV novels (Merit’s unconscious during the day) and the DE novels (Lily is in school during weekdays).
I don’t use a formal bulleted/numbered outline. I just use dashes to designate each main activity, and then I’ll indent any subactivities or dialogue that I want to include in the scene. Thus, it looks something like this:
- Merit goes to the library to read.
- Merit talks to vampire.
- Merit reads book.
- Merit goes to sleep.
I like using a word processing document because it allows me to edit as I write. Thus, if I decide that a scene needs to be moved from Day Two to Day Four, I can move parts around in the outline. [Using index cards in lieu of a word processing document would accomplish the same task, but I like being able to see the entire plot in a single document.]
Since I don’t write sequentially (I don’t draft the scenes in order; I jump around), I use the highlight function in Microsoft Word to keep track of plots or things I still need to finish. Thus, the running list of scenes I need to finish might be highlighted in yellow, so that I can “unhighlight” each scene as it’s completed.
Alternately, I might highlight romance plot scenes in one color and mystery plot scenes in another so that I can get a visual feel for how the plot is developing through the book. If I scroll through a five-page outline and one of the colors doesn’t pop up until page three, it’s a clue that I need to work on the development of that particular plot earlier in the novel.
And that’s about it. Once the outline is preliminarily drafted, I’ll send it off to my editor for her reference, and then I’ll start writing! But that’s Part Three . . .