I used to be very hardcore about outlining. In college, I outlined my papers on half-sheets of paper and then taped those outlines to the monitor of my computer to keep them in my field of vision as I worked. I first got into fiction writing by helping to outline someone else’s1 project. And when I first finally started writing fiction by myself, I outlined in minute detail–every beat, every breath, every break.
I still outline short stories, actually, roughing out the beats before I start the actual writing, but I haven’t outlined a novel in years. I didn’t outline Ariah or Resistance at all. But with my NaNoWriMo project, The Analog System, I don’t have the luxury of working in a universe I’ve defined yet. I did some worldbuilding, some basic foundation laying, in October, but I also actually outlined a plot. Start all the way to finish.It was hard. I am rusty. I kept getting stuck, so then I’d do some more worldbuilding, or flag questions I needed to research about worldbuilding, or else-wise procrastinate. I ended up googling “novel three act structure” because, hell, I don’t need something fancy for a first draft, just something tried-and-true, something serviceable.
I came across a helpful post at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University and forced my way through it.
It felt weird defining the plot before I knew all the ins and outs of the universe. It felt even weirder making plot decisions before I knew who the cast of characters would be. But I didn’t want to sprint my way into a dead end with NaNoWriMo. I needed a road map for this one.
It felt very weird, but I did it. Now, let’s just see if I follow it.
1That project was my partner’s short story, which eventually turned into the world of Aerdh. The most direct descendant of that fateful initial short story is probably Cargo.