I Threw Away My Outline

Posted on February 5th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: News, Writing

I finally fixed Courting the Dragon’s plot problem.

I threw away the plot.

Alright, the main plot points are still the same. The blurb that’s already posted on this website is still wholly and perfectly valid. But I threw out that stupid outline that’s been suffocating me from day one.

Didn’t I just say that outlining is important for sequels like two or three blog posts ago? Yes, yes I did. And I stick by that statement. But that only works if you wrote a good outline in the first place. I’m here to tell you, this one was garbage.

If you follow me on Twitter you’re probably aware that I took a machete to my more-than-half-finished draft a while back and I’ve been building it back up. Most of what I axed at the time was related the to the villain I hated oh-so-much and the utterly failed attempt at using him as a pseudo love interest. That didn’t work out for all kinds of reasons, primarily because Penelope wasn’t having it (I don’t blame her) and I just couldn’t make the guy likable.

But that still left me with a heap of things I didn’t like, and a whole big section that feels like a Regency Romance novel that makes me want to beat my head against a wall. It isn’t anything against the genre. I’ve read quite a few that I enjoy (a bunch of things by Johanna Lindsey come to mind). The problem is that writing in that way made my female characters feel very vapid to me, and it’s really the antithesis of the personas I built for Penny and Tiffany in Saving the Dragon. I have no idea how other authors manage to write strong female characters in such a setting. More power to them, honestly. If you have any tips to leave in the comments I’m all ears.

So, for the time being, that section I’m unhappy with is still technically part of the draft. I expect it to bleed red in the first round of hard revisions. Like, big red X’s and all new scenes scribbled on the back and in the margins. There’s a plot point in there I somehow need to keep, and I have a few ideas about how to do it dancing in my head. BUT. That is a problem for future me. I’ve promised myself no more big cuts before the last line of the first(ish) draft has been written.

So, what did I do about the plot?

I went back to who my characters are. 

Penelope isn’t someone who waits around for someone else to come up with a solution. To quote her in one of her new scenes: “Have you ever known me to sit in a tower and wait for rescue?” And yet, I had her doing exactly that for a substantial part of the very early draft. Some of the things I had her doing were so appalling out of character that it made it impossible to do anything with her.

Don’t even get me started on what Salarath was up to. Let me just say, sulking is not a good look on him.

Getting reacquainted with my heroes put a few things in sharp perspective for me, and made doing a few more surgical removals (prior to the no-more-big-cuts-vow) a simple matter. I graphed on some new scenes to replace what I’d sliced away, and suddenly some things fell into place nicely, because Penny and her dragon were acting like themselves again. Whew.

From that point, I decided to take a road somewhere between the complete and utter pantsing that I did for Saving and the tightly constrained outline I initially did for Courting. My characters were at point A, but I knew they needed to get to B, C, and D before I could even think about writing the finale. So, I noted B, C, and D, and then just let the characters take me to them.

Do I have a few crap transition scenes that are totally going under the knife in first revisions later this month? Abso-frickin’-lutely.

Am I a thousand times happier than I was with this draft a month ago? You have no idea.

When I finished my first round of big tear-outs, I’d taken the draft down from over 50k to ~43k words. I’m now coming up on 70k again (probably more by the time this post actually goes live). At this rate, Courting may very well end up being almost twice as long as its predecessor. I ain’t mad about that. I don’t think everyone who has been looking forward to this book will be either.

I think it may be time to accept that I’m not a traditional outliner. I do need to take notes like nobody’s business because I will forget the neat little plot twists I had in store. Or I’ll forget some detail about my magic system I had intended to work in. Or whatever. I had all kinds of things planned for book three, but I didn’t write them down, so now I’m having to try and remember what they were. I’ve now started my notes file for book three now precisely because of this. But it’s just that, notes. It seems that a more free-form approach of just random bullet points in a Google doc works best for me.

The truth is, with only one completed long-form work under my belt, I’m still learning what exactly my process is. But I think that the moral of this story is you are NOT married to an outline (unless of course, you signed a contract stating that you are and you owe it to some big publishing house, then I’m both sorry for you and extremely jealous). If your outline isn’t working for you, throw it away. Start over. Get back in touch with who your characters are and the story they are trying to tell. Then write a new outline if you’re someone who needs the structure. Or don’t if you’re really a total pantser. But don’t stick with an outline you’ve come hate.


General Progress Update

I’m now very confident about getting the first(ish) draft of Courting finished this month. I had hoped to be done around the last weekend of January, but doing the editing on my first video book review turned out to be waaaay more time consuming than I anticipated, partly because I was trying to learn new software. To complicate things further, I’m now dealing with some hand and wrist issues that I’m hoping aren’t a big red flag for worse things yet to come. So that is slowing down my progress a bit from the rapid movement I was making before. Still, being well into revisions by the middle of February remains realistic, despite my hand and wrist pain. Fortunately, I revise on a printed draft, so that will give my left hand a nice break.

With that confidence about finishing the draft, I am now also ready to say that I am targeting a summer 2018 release for Courting the Dragon. I do have an exact date in mind, but I’m not quite ready to share it since these pain issues are cropping up and *cramping* my style (get it? get it?). As I get into revisions and get the second(ish) draft out to beta readers it will become more obvious whether or not that date is feasible. Start looking for an official launch announcement around March.

 

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