Plotting with bullet points
I realised at the weekend that my reluctance to outline The Prince of Lies was based on my frustration with the standard “index card per scene” process. I don’t see scenes as isolated incidents that can easily be arranged in a new order – for me, the whole tenor and purpose of a scene alters fundamentally depending on what’s already happened. In my search for inspiration on how to get around this, I stumbled across a post called “How I Plot a Novel in 5 Steps” on Rachel Aaron’s blog. It’s a lot like the Snowflake Method, but simpler and more organic, more suited to a discovery writer’s approach to outlining.
The characters and setting for this book are already well-established, so I was able to burn through the first two steps in under an hour. Also, I didn’t worry too much about coming up with plot twists or mid-book scenes; instead I’ve pushed ahead to Step 3: Filling in the Holes – in other words, outlining the bulk of the book.
As Rachel suggests, I’ve simply started at the beginning of the story and keep asking myself “what happens next?” – or more accurately, “what’s the most fun thing that can happen next without violating plot logic?*”. I have a single document open in Scrivener which has one bullet point per scene (i.e. change of time/location/likely PoV), with an optional sublist of steps in that scene or plot points that need addressing. I like being able to see the whole thing at once and read it in sequence, but I can still move scenes using old-fashioned cut’n’paste. My plan is to work through the whole story like this, picking at plot knots as I go, until I have the whole thing mapped out, and then carve it into separate scene documents using Scrivener’s handy Cmd-K shortcut.
So far it’s proving pretty successful. I can outline a couple of chapters a day this way, fixing plot holes and impasses without all the labour of writing it out (two chapters is about 7k words for me, or maybe half that in rough draft – way more than I can write on a work day). It remains to be seen if I can really map out a whole novel this way, but it should only take me 2-3 weeks – a small enough chunk of time to try out a new writing method without endangering my whole schedule.
* Because, as she says in her equally awesome post on increasing your word count, planning scenes that you know are going to be fun to write will make the process so much easier!