For the past month or so, I’ve been reading K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success.
One of the ideas that struck me most when reading it was that every scene in a novel should flow from the last, much as a domino in a row of falling dominos will fall when the one before it falls. This idea both intrigued me and scared me, because, to be honest, I wasn’t really sure whether every scene in my current WIP was a “domino.” Was there fluff? Were there things I could remove? Did every subsequent scene follow naturally and irrevocably from my inciting incident?
Luckily, as I read on, my panic was assuaged by a tiny, and seemingly simple piece of advice: If you’re not sure how to get from point A to point B in a novel (or from point H to point K, for that matter), try outlining backwards. Weiland suggested that outlining backwards is one of the best ways to ensure your scenes flow organically from one to the next, like dominoes.
I took the advice to heart and began at the final scene of my novel (which I already knew by heart…sighs), and started working backwards from there. I have to say, it was tremendously helpful.
I had written the first 70 or 80 pages of my WIP by the seat of my pants, as I had with my last novel. But I’d started to become concerned that my plot would begin to meander if I didn’t know where it was going. Enter my $4.99 Amazon purchase of Weiland’s ebook (A steal folks! I swear I’m not getting paid for this post). Anyway, I knew my beginning, I knew my characters, but I didn’t know how best to get to my last scene without slogging through a fluffy, saggy middle. So, taking Weiland’s advice, I briefly sketched the details of my last scene in a notebook and then asked, “How do I get there? What characters actions, motivations, desires, mistakes, will lead me to this point?”
And then the ideas began to flow. I wrote scene by scene, backwards, all the way to the point where I’d left off in my writing: the beginning I felt pretty decent about. I found that when I looked back over what I’d outlined, my scenes were more focused and driven. They got from point A to point B organically (I think). And my characters’ desires and motivations led them there. This may sound simple, but for me, it was huge. After writing a 100,000+ doorstop as my first novel, I knew I needed to focus in on the essentials and skip the fluff.
What’s funny is that I’ve always been kind of “anti-outline,” like it was the enemy of creativity, but after reading Weiland’s book, and implementing many of her suggestions to draw out a map for my story, I feel it’s just the opposite. I know when I go back to write my scenes I’ll still have room for creativity. And the bonus? As I retool the notecard storyboard I made, I can figure out plot holes in advance, and look to see whether various characters are getting enough stage time. This is all work that can be done much easier when you’re only rescribbling a few notecards or notebook pages, rather than going back through 80,000 plus words of a novel looking for these things.
I highly recommend the book to all you pantsers out there! It just might change your stripes.