Thursday, February 6, 2014

What I'm Writing Now: Experiments with outlines

Photo by Tnarik via flickr- some rights reserved

I admit it, I've never been much of a planner when I write. "Pantsing," or writing from the seat of my pants, has been my modus operandi from the get go. However, I'm finding that as I try to attack longer works, pantsing hasn't been effective. Case in point: the novel I've been working on for almost four years. I'm now convinced that I've actually been writing two novels at the same time. Talk about nightmare revisions!

My lack of planning hasn't been from lack of trying. I've read multiple books and articles about the joys of planning out your plots and characters. When it comes time to write that outline, though, I get over- whelmed and soon feel like I'm locked in a straight jacket and go "off-road" with my writing at the first opportunity.

I've been writing quite a bit of short fiction lately, mostly under 3000 words, one coming in at just under 400. However, I've had an idea for quite awhile now to write what I call "20 Minute Romances." All of my friends say they want to read but only have about twenty minutes at night before they fall asleep. I also thought women commuting or waiting for kids could read a story in 20-30 minutes and get the satisfaction of reading a full story without having to commit to reading a novel. So this means generating a story between 6000 and 10,000 words.

Almost as if I ordered it, Writer's Digest February 2014 had two serendipitous articles: Outline and Story Mapping- 7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for any Story, by KM Wieland and Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Steven James. The first caught my eye because I knew I had to get serious about outlining, but didn't want a rigid system. The second stood out because I knew that in order to have a compelling story, I had to add lots of tension and nothing causes more tension than a dilemma.

I dutifully got my spiral ring note book out and started following the steps*. In the process I've gotten to know my characters because I've been able to ask myself questions on paper like "Why is a 32 year old, educated man an exotic dancer?" (Interested yet?) I can doodle around and go way off on a tangent and then come back and refine the story line because it's not a rigid outline. I'm having a lot more fun and have been able to more fully realize my thoughts on the page, even before starting the first draft.

When I got to the conflict portion of the process, I got out Rock and Hard Place. I sat around gleefully thinking about how I could torture my characters, making them choose between two losing scenarios and racking my brain for a "third option" - something that would resolve the dilemma in a surprising way. I admit, it took me a couple days to come up with it, but I think I've got a good one.

All of this brain work has resulted in the following blurb:

Holly wants nothing more than to prove to her ex-husband, Richard, that he made a huge mistake by leaving her for her ex-BFF. When a friend invites Holly to the same New Year's Eve party as her two ex's, she hires Ryan, a young, sexy, exotic dancer, to show her husband she's still desirable. Despite his crazy life, Holly finds herself falling for Ryan. Things take a serious turn when Richard discovers Ryan's occupation and uses it as leverage to start a custody battle for his and Holly's daughters. Holly must find a way to keep her daughters and Ryan.

What do you think? If you're a romance fan, do you think you'd like to read a story like this? What do you think the third option would be? If you come up with a better idea than mine (which I'm not telling!) I might use it in the story.

*Yes, strangely enough I've found that going old school with a paper and pen for a first draft is producing much better second drafts since I edit as I type them into the computer.


  1. I really like the sound of your novel. Perhaps the daughter could come to love Ryan more, as he is more a father figure to her than her own?? And that's why Richard is really after custody of her, trying to prove that he is a better father? Or in fact, he has finally realised that what he had, he's lost forever, and 'that the grass isn't always greener on the other side'? Maggie Jones xx Doing this as anonymous as it won't let me do it under any other.

    1. Hi Maggie: Thanks for stopping by! Having Richard realize what he's lost is a great idea. Thanks for the suggestions!