Tuesday, 10 November 2009

NaNoWriMo and 87 Points of Outline

For weeks I have spoken about my NaNoWriMo outline, and how it has helped me. Today, having some leisure time this evening, I shall explain a little more about it, and why it has been helpful in not only shooting forward with the word count, but also with continuing momentum. First let me explain that altogether this outline took me two weeks, but I had been planning the story and knew my characters months before that, so it certainly wasn't a quick job. For this particular novel, it's been a roundabout journey because I was still developing methods that work for me; I had tried many different things and I had changed the story several times. But with going around in circle with this story line, I found a method that will make future stories much easier - hopefully. This may or may not work for you, but hopefully it might inspire you to create your own method. So this outline:
  • It's fairly detailed. About 12000 words total, but taking out all the repeated titles, headings etc. still about 8K to 9K. So pretty long. The important thing is that it is an outline of EVENTS.

  • Basically, I have listed in bullet point 87 things that happen from beginning to end. 87 wasn't a selected number, but that's where the story ended. Under each heading, I have described what that bullet point is supposed to be about. Some points are more detailed than others, depending on how much I knew when I was writing the outline. It's not necessarily a scene by scene outline, because sometimes a scene carries on from one point to the next. It's simply what happens.

  • I was hoping that each of the 87 point would be approximately 1000 words, giving me about 87K of the first draft. I never expected it to be exactly that, as currently I am on 43rd point, and my word count is just over 40K. Some points have been as low as 200 words, and one or two have been as long as 2500. That's something that I learn as I write the draft, and end it where it needs to end. So eventually I will end up with the first draft that is between 80K to 90K, and that's my goal.

  • Personally for me, I think I have found the exact balance that I need between having enough detail so as not to worry about what happens next, and not enough detail so it doesn't suck the creativity out of writing. I have TOLD what should happen in the outline. I have not SHOWN how it could happen. That happens in the first draft. But not having to worry about what should happen next has made the writing process much much easier.

  • All the plot fixing has been done in the outline. I revised this outline about three times, with significant changes. As I wrote it, I found plot lines that didn't work or plot holes that weren't filled. I fixed it before I started writing the first draft. This has been one of my biggest problems with my first drafts, because it totally puts me off editing, and makes me feel like whole thing is unfixable. But with most of the plot holes fixed at the outline stage, the first draft is fairly consistent. I know there will be things that need fixing, but at least the most obvious ones are out of the way. I am hoping that it will make editing less of a nightmare.

  • It has divided writing in small sections. So this morning when I took Finn out of my bag, I didn't have to face the whole novel, just point 42. Simple. It should also make it easier when editing, because there will be a small section to handle at a time, as oppose to the whole book.

So that's my outline. Like I said, I have tried different things and different types of outline, but this is the first that has been useful and I have enjoyed using it, so I intend to stick to it for future books.

And why am I having a leisurely evening you may ask - that's because I have already reached today's target. I wanted to reach 40K today, but I am currently at 40514 words. I will still write a bit tonight, but I am not in hurry to finish a certain word count, so tonight, bit more writing and also more reading.

Have you learned anything new about your writing method or preferences from this year's NaNoWriMo experience?


  1. First, nice new look. :-)

    Second, I'm still jealous of your word count. ;-)

    As for what I'm learning...I was experimenting with scene outlines too. And I don't think I'll ever try writing a novel-length work without one again. I'm far happier with how this draft is turning out than I have been with any NaNo draft prior. I didn't get as far as you did, but I'd definitely like to expand to that next time.

    Congrats on the excellent progress and great success with your outline! :-)

  2. I'm in awe of your word count -- and I totally agree that outlining plot points helps. Then it's much easier to move from point A to point B and focus on building character and motivation in the process.

    Love the clean new look of your blog, btw.


  3. Yeah your word count= totally awesome :) Love the new layout- Ha- I just got a new one myself, we must be on the same wavelength. You know what I'm also jealous of= your organizational skills.

    Seriously- an outline that's 12,000 words! I'm with Jamie- outlines are the way to go. I'm much happier with them, even if it's just a loose one.

    I've learned that I need to write every day, and that I can write more a day than I thought :)

    Way to go!!

  4. Thanks for sharing this. I haven't worked off an outline yet, but I'm beginning to think it's worth a try. I like that you're allowing your scenes (or points) to end where they need to end. Sometimes pushing for a word count can get in the way of the story.

  5. Jamie,

    I have always been curious about people who do scene outlines. I did attempt, but to be honest, I have no idea when the scene will begin or end for most of the time. That tends to come out of writing. How do you do it? Do you just know?

    And as for NaNo word count, I am leading a very unbalanced existence by focusing on NaNo only, so that makes it easier to get it done.


    Glad you like the new look. Suddenly looking at my blog last night, it seemed to crowded, so I thought a revamp was required.


    While my organisation skills are fine, my discipline is terrible, so being organised is almost a necessity otherwise I would never get anything done. That's why having short deadline for NaNo helps, because less time to get distracted.

    And totally agree with you about being able to write more than we think. I think we waste so much time in our day-to-day activity, it's easy to imagine we are far busier than we actually are.


    I think even if you think are organic writer, it's worth at least trying an outline. It may not work for you, but until you try it, you wouldn't know.

    And I don't agree with having fixed word-length per scene or per chapter or anything, because you just cannot know how long that particular segment will be until you write it. That sort of considerations come much later when the book is polished. In the beginning, the story should be given more creative reign.

  6. Count me, too, among those jealous of your word count!

    Maybe I'll have to try one of those outline thingies . . . next year. :-)

  7. After writing a 60,000-word monster without an outline, I've always outlined! Like you, I write enough to feel I know where I'm going, but allow myself leeway to still be creative.
    Great wordcount... sounds like you could do a double NaNo!

  8. C R, thanks :-) Good luck with your NaNo, and let me know how the outline attempt works out for you when you try it.



    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. :) Our outline method sounds pretty similar. Not quite double NaNo, but I am intending to write full first draft of my novel (between 80K to 90K) as a NaNo challenge, instead of just the 50K.

  9. Outlines are so helpful to me in just knowing where the story's going. I really write a story of scenes without description or dialogue and call that an outline.

    Your new look is clean, but I liked the black.

    Oh, and about Finn. Call it his/her bag, not yours. Sounds like a prisoner otherwise.

  10. Matt, I have written first drafts like that - though mostly without description, but with dialogue. In fact, even my current draft would need descriptions. But it's something I always have trouble with.

    About the blog look, sorry you prferred the older one. Though mind you, I might get bored of this eventually and go back to Black. We shall see.

    LOL..Finn, prisoner. That's funny!

  11. I think I might be labeling what serves as my "outline" incorrectly. I don't actually outline each scene, but rather write a synopsis of each scene to tell me what happens to who in that time/space.

    So my "outline" looks something like:

    Scene: Girl sits at outdoor bistro table, note flutters at her feet, she picks it up. Something in the contents shocks her.

    Scene: Man follows girl as she rushes down the street with the note in hand She's going to the police department - does she make it?

    Scene: Girl is in trunk of car, kidnapped. She's trying to figure out how to either break out, or quietly signal for help.

    You get the idea. I leave a lot of leeway for what actually happens, they're more like prompts to keep the story moving in a logical fashion, and to keep the plot from veering too far off it's normal course (or from being hijacked by subplots).

    What would you call that? A scene synopsis outline, maybe? LOL

  12. Jamie,

    I suppose it could be scene outline, because I don't exactly know what scene outline is supposed to look like. But I would call it more like "event" outline - bit like mine. This happens, then this happens, then this happens. But in outline, we don't describe HOW it happens. That's for writing. So yes, I do a similar enough thing.