Outlining and Other Mysteries – Part 3

In the first installment of this series, I talked about building an outline for your story, and in the second installment I talked about the M.I.C.E. quotient and creating a synopsis.  This time I’ll show you how to put them all together into a full-fledged story.

Remember, I’ve written this based on the notes I took during a lecture at the Rainforest Writer’s Retreat, given by Mary Robinette Kowal. Credit is further due to Orson Scott Card, who discusses M.I.C.E and other things in his books Character and Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.

So now you’ve got an outline and a synopsis.  Using the two together, make a list of the scenes you’re going to need, starting with the synopsis.  Compare this with your outline, and fill in anything that seems to be missing.  You’ll often find that the first list you make will have scenes A, C, and D but that there’s something in the outline that needs to go into scene B.  Make sure that each scene advances the plot, and develops the plot and setting.  Combine any scenes that serve the same purpose.  Discard anything that doesn’t.  This is often the most difficult thing, and it’s better to do it here – before you’ve written it – than after.  You’ve heard the oft-repeated advice, “kill your darlings”.  Well, now’s the time to do it, before it becomes a darling.

Another example from Broken.  You’ll note that in synopsis I did in Part 2, there’s no mention of Simon’s deceased sister, which I mentioned in the outline in Part 1.  This is an important point in his character development, as he’s trying to save the Japanese girl, Yukio, as a sort of redemption for not saving his sister.  Therefore, I added in the flashback scenes showing the events that led to his sister’s death.  Here’s my list of scenes for Broken, including some of the changes I made after the initial scene list.

  1. Simon awakens in the wrecked airplane, and begins to explore.  He finds Yukio.
  2. Flashback scene, introduces Yukio and establishes why Simon feels a connection with her
  3. Simon and Yukio meet.  Yukio has a broken leg.  No other survivors, no cell service, etc.
  4. Flashback #2. The plane is crashing in the middle of a storm.  Related BG to the car crash in the rain that killed Simon’s sister.  Flashback #3 (within a flashback) of Simon’s 21st birthday and his sister’s death.
  5. Simon helps Yukio, gathering food, splinting her leg.  They’re buried in the snow.  They have some food. Simon is an engineer (moved from scene 6)
  6. Simon goes to explore.  Things get worse: the black box isn’t working.  Simon is an engineer, knows how to fix it, but can’t reach it.  Yukio volunteers to try.
  7. Flashback #3.  Simon’s 21st birthday, it’s raining, his sister dies in a car crash.  Moved from #4.
  8. Yukio goes down into the blackness to fix the black box.  Simon guides her from above.  There are similarities to the accident with his sister, (reaching down into the darkness to pull her out, etc.).
  9. Simon pulls Yukio out of the darkness, gets her back to her seat, keeps her company until the rescue helicopters arrive.  Big reveal ending.

You’ll remember that I said that I didn’t know anything about this stuff prior to the Rainforest Retreat.  That’s not strictly true: I’ve always made scene lists like this, and then written my story in the same document, deleting the notes for each scene as I finish writing it.  (I’d never done any outlining, M.I.C.E., or creating the synopsis from a series of yes & no questions, however.)  That way I always know what I haven’t done yet, and I can add in, delete, or move scenes just by changing the scene list.

And that’s a very important point, actually.  Always remember that your outline is not sacred.  Neither are your synopsis or your scene list.  Things can and do change along the way – look at the edits I made to my scene list.  These edits can be small or large – the question is, what is more interesting?  The new idea, or the old one?

Now that you’ve got your three resources – the outline, the synopsis, and the scene list – you can start with the actual writing.  Fill in the blanks, expand on the ideas.  Things in the outline (like character development or plot devices) that didn’t show up in the synopsis or scene list get put in here.  Figure out which scene they fit best in – often this involves writing them out and discovering they don’t work quite right in the place you wanted to put them, but fit much better somewhere else.  Before long, you’ll have a full story written out, ready to submit to your friends for review.

A couple of side notes to make.  It’s possible to write each story from different points of view.  Asking which character has the most to lose is a good way to decide on a single point of view, but sometimes a story requires multiple P.O.V.s.  In that case, do separate layouts for each character – each one can have his or her (or its!) own M.I.C.E.  When you go to write the scenes, do so from the P.O.V. of the character with the most at stake in that scene.  Finally, if you do have multiple P.O.V.s, make sure that each character has enough scenes to tell their story properly.  You’ll find that the character you short is almost always the one the reader wants to hear the most about.

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2 Comments

Filed under The Written Word

2 responses to “Outlining and Other Mysteries – Part 3

  1. faentur

    Re-reading this, I’m struck by the very last line as it relates to my submission last time and the comments you guys had yesterday: the character I shorted was Jini, the little girl, and she was the one you guys wanted to hear more about.
    Ever hear the saying, “Physician, heal thyself?”

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