Friday, August 13, 2010

Phase Outlines

Yesterday as I flipped through my expanding folder of writing papers, I came across a collection of papers that went with my NaNoWriMo 2008 novel, Tears for the Silent Lands. In it, I found something I’d nearly forgotten about – the phase outline. A phase outline is an outline that details every scene (or part of a scene) in a novel. It can be as short or as long as the author wants, but the longer it is, the more effective it is. It’s designed specifically to include the little details that the author sees in a scene ahead of time, but would be out of place in any other kind of outline. Here is an example of part of a phase outline:

34. Katharine turns the corner and finds a flight of stairs leading up to a door at the top. She is angry, and is determined to no longer feel fear. She climbs the stairs. Boards creaking like moaning ghosts.

35. She opens the door. As soon as she does, a bullet whizzes past her head. She screams, runs back down the stairs, and does not stop until she is out of the building.

36. Katharine sits at the base of one of the building’s brick walls, knees to her chest, and tries to figure out what to do. Wishes she hadn’t lost her cell phone. Wonders who she would call even if she did have it.

This type of outline is particularly useful during NaNoWriMo, because you can look to the outline to see what you’re going to write next, and then just elaborate on what’s already there. It helps you get through the slow days when you have no inspiration whatsoever. And if you think of something better than what’s on the outline, great!

As it turns out, this is exactly what I needed for outlining Part III of Evanescent Moonlight. I know what things the third part needs to accomplish, but I wasn’t sure of the sequence of events and I was afraid to try to plan. Now with the phase outline, I can give the ending a test-run, telling the story in condensed form to see if it works. For example, I’m only a page into the phase outline, but I’ve already discovered that I need to include a battle I was not anticipating. Going through the story beforehand gives me a chance to work out all the little problems that arise when you have as many characters as I do.

The one downside to the phase outline is that it takes time. My outline for Tears for the Silent Lands ended up being about 10,000 words long. But it was worth it, because what I spent in planning beforehand, I didn’t spend in headaches during November.

1 comment:

  1. I love outlines, especially for things like NaNo.
    This summer, the story I am working on had no outline, and still doesn't, but somehow the pieces of the story manage to fall together as I'm writing it. It's fun.
    I still prefer outlines in general.