My favorite line in “The Martian” trailer, uttered by Matt Damon, is “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.”
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) June 17, 2015
Hello and welcome back to my Do The Shit Out Of This Series. You know, I’m going to be majorly bummed when The Martian comes out and it’s actually a raging pile of dogshit. But this line is so good! I have hope!
Okay, writers. This is for you. Today, I’m talking about outlining. Planning. That magical voodoo that everyone seems to have but you. There are some people who completely make up novels as they go, and many of them are very successful. For me to do that?
It sets my hair on fire.
So, for those of you that feel up a creek? Gather round!
For those of you that keep post-its in every drawer (me), scraps of paper (me), stacks of journals (me), physical files and folders (me), whiteboards (me), and have a constantly mobile life (me). You need something that can be easily carried, and always accessible across all devices.
Welcome… To Microsoft OneNote.
Here we have my character tabs.
On these tabs I basically keep a repository of character pictures and inspirations. I do keep random notes (which have been redacted For Reasons.) and if the random notes pertain to two or more characters, I paste the note on all three pages.
Here are my tabs close up.
Here we have other tabs that I can’t show you For Reasons. Two you should note, are World Building and Throw Ahead. World Building is where I jot random ideas about how the Fairy Tales series works, how the magic works, and how it all goes together. I don’t toss in every single idea all at once, just as they come to me.
Throw Ahead is an amazing tab where I toss all the ideas in for future books, stuff that happens in book one, may not appear until book three. Or a clue I planted in book two, will pan out in a spin-off series. Likewise, I don’t try to plan this all at once. I just toss it in as it comes.
And then we come to the Outlines tab. Aaaah. The land of milk and honey of all my tabs. Divided into all three books, each title has their working blurbs, and then I have sub tabs consisting of What I Know About [BLANK], Post-Its Outline, and Outline. Yes, I really do roughly outline my books on Post-Its.
The tab I always start with is What I Know About [BLANK], it’s here I start tossing out random ideas. Stuff I might think is kind of cool for instance.
One I had was it would be really cool for the guys to go to a Pumpkin Chunkin’ competition. Why? I’ll figure it out later. But I jot it down.
For Fairy Tales, I need locations. I jot random notes of what I want. One I want for sure is Fenway Park which was actually in my Throw Ahead. I recently put out the call to the New Yorkers on FB about tourist traps. Times Square seemed to be the winner.
I also thought a really nifty scene would be for Taylor and Corentin bonding under the Hollywood sign. Romantic right?
But I also remembered in my Throw Ahead file there’s Darlene from Americana Fairy Tale who worked at Randy’s Donuts in LA. She could be useful to do [REDACTED] and later to bond over [REDACTED] at the Hollywood sign!
So I write all of that down.
When I get enough of this random idea vomit, they begin to form a natural chronology. Part of your subconscious brain trying to associate your ideas together.
Then it’s time for the outline tab.
It’s a numbered list, like so. And I cut and paste all of my random scenes in order into the list. Not all of them follow neatly one after the other. They need a few bits to fill in the gaps. But with the major points down, the rest is cake.
The best part? You don’t have to do this all in one go or sitting at your laptop. Get the OneNote app for your phone and tablet and take it with you on the go! Got a long commute? You got the time. Doctor’s office? You sooooo got the time.
Save carrying around a billion things. Notebooks, pens, and other heavy things that slow you down. Got a phone? Snap. Go. Done. Got a stylus with that tablet? Scribble it down.
There is a method to my madness, a crazy and rigid person locked in the body of an ADD free spirit.
My way is simply a guide of how I go about it. In the end, only you need a way to find how it works or you. Did it work? Did you adapt an alternate to your writing life? Let me know!