Outlining is scary

This week, I’ve been planning and outlining.

And — oh boy — this is the scariest part.

The writing part of writing is easy-peasy. All you do is follow the outline and enjoy yourself. You don’t even need to think about it, because all the planning and consideration and fixing was done during the outlining.

But to get there, the outline has to be done.

And this is when the doubt creeps in.

This is when you need to figure out if a story can work.

This is when you start to panic because maybe it won’t ever come together and you might just never make it.

This is the scary bit.

Outlining Esthree Postbuild

Kathryn — bless her heart — asked me:

BTW how far along are you? I feel like you are a fast writer (faster than me at least) but I could be wrong.

Well, my friends, let me tell you something. Writing is a lot like sex; folks who talk about doing it, probably aren’t. And do I ever talk about it.

Writing — I mean.

Here’s where I was at with the trilogy this morning:

  • Part 1: Premise, with a hint of an outline.
  • Part 2: Half of a premise.
  • Part 3: First draft mostly done.

While there are reasons for Part 3 being mostly done already, my focus right now is Part 1. So any impression of me being a fast writer — ha! Ha, I say! A fast writer would have this nonsense outlined already.

The problem with Part 1

I approached the planning of Part 1 with four goals in mind:

  1. Introduce the world of the Age of Ley. It’s nothing too weird. In fact, any fans of hard fantasy will find it outright tame — but that’s okay. I’m no huge fan of impenetrable fantasy worlds, so mine’s a little more down-to-Earth. But still, I want a bit of breathing room to set the scene.
  2. Introduce Esthree Postbuild. She doesn’t have any kind of epic backstory, nor is she a particularly unusual character. I just wanted to give her a little story in her “normal” world before everything turns upside-down in Part 3, so I can set up some fears and flaws to amplify her heroics.
  3. Lay the foundations of the grander story. This is a world of magic, on the brink of war, ruled by an elite with an agenda, and about to encounter a threat to all of humanity. I know, I know — it’s Cliche City, but bear with me. I want to go for a slow burn on this story, rather than force it into one book. In fact, I tried that — and that’s why I’m back at the beginning to outline a trilogy. I’ve got a checklist of things I need to establish in this first story.
  4. …but tell a standalone story. I’m all for authors writing in series. Shit, I love when I can pick up the continuing adventures of characters I love. But, I have to admit that I’ve read a few series-starters that reach the end of the book and… stop. I can’t stand when “Book 1” is treated like “Act 1”. So, it’s important to me that this story has a distinct beginning, middle and end, while hopefully tempting readers to stick around to find out more about the grander mystery.

So, where am I at?

I’ve got a premise that handles 1, 2 and 3 above — but not quite 4.

I mean — up until this morning I thought it would work as a standalone story, but after a morning of brainstorming it, it’s turned out to be a bit on the light side.

I came to realise that the goal I have in mind for Esthree in this story needs to be backed up with a couple of meaningful subplots. Or, maybe the goal she starts off with needs to end up being a subplot to something meatier.

Either way, the goal I have in mind for her can’t be the be-all-end-all of this story.

More thinking! MORE PLANNING!

So, I fired up MindNode and kicked off some hard brainstorming.

Sub plots in MindNode

I got a dozen ideas out, but none of them were sticky. It took me a while to realise the problem, and then it was obvious: I was brainstorming side quests, not anything meaningful. They all felt tacked-on because they were.

I took a break. I had some lunch. I played some piano. Turns out that What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes is my new distraction groove.

And when I got back to the keyboard with a clear head, I realised I’d been coming at the problem all wrong.

I’d been getting all the wrong answers, because I hadn’t been asking the right question.

I’d been asking “What can I add to this story?”

I should’ve been asking “What consequences of the premise have I not yet considered?”

Instantly, a dozen ideas came out onto the screen. And there was my menu of subplots.

No conflicts for-conflicts-sake. Just conflicts arising from the consequences of the story.

And that’s the way to do it!

Next steps

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to wrap up a really good summary today. The premise is sticky for sure, and I’ve got a bunch of great options now to carry it.

So, the plan for this week is to keep on planning, thinking, finding holes, filling them, and finding the story that’s in here somewhere.

And I hope I can share the blurb soon! As soon as it’s clear in my head, I’ll let you know!

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