There’s a lot of information out there on how to plot and outline. People have written whole books about the same, and thinking how they had to outline that is way more amusing to me than it probably should be.
Outlining can be a really daunting thought for many, and sometimes I hate it. I abso-fucking-lutely detest it, because what am I getting done? Nothing, the instant-gratification-greedy-ID screams. You could have written the first chapter and started posting! Instead you wasted a week with this shit? Eh. That little bitch is wrong.
Because once its done, I love it.
Latchkey Hero’s first season didn’t need a lot of outlining, since it mostly followed the source material close enough to let me get away without a great deal of preparation. Once I hit season two though, which has an entirely original plot line, I didn’t have that existing framework to play with any more. And I was stumped. Least until I figured out that even without the need to, I’d already started practising my outlining with the first season, it just wasn’t as clear to me back then. In fact, I think I did the same thing with the already existing story, sort of reverse engineering it to be able to fit Zofia into it and see where she would begin derailing things.
End. Middle. Start.
My stories come out ass first. Yep.
For both Valiant and Latchkey, I knew how they were going to end much sooner than I knew how they were going to start. I’m not saying I knew what the last chapter was going to be, how it’d all go down exactly, but I knew what I wanted to achieve. And while I wasn’t a 100% clear on the details yet, I also had an idea on how I wanted to get there. What was left to figure out was where to open it up, where the story should begin so it could lead to what I wanted to achieve, and how I wanted it to do so.
For that purpose I usually grab a big sheet of paper, draw a line across it, and pencil in the three main touch points from Start to End. The empty white space in-between will then be filled with…
What do we have to lose?
Here is where I take a look at the cast, and what their stakes in this whole deal is. That includes a villain. Each character gets a card with their motivation, goals, and my eventual choice on whether or not they win or lose. Call it their own personal subplots if you’d like, although I like to think that my characters lead the plot, and not the other way around.
I set these cards on the page, so I can reference them, and I move on to…
The story skeleton
There’s lots of ways to build that. Wanna follow the classic Hero’s Journey? Have at it. Would you rather go all Snowball method on it? There’s tons of ways to go about it, and a lot better places to go look for them, to be fair. Me, I’ve settled on a bastardised version of the Tent Pole method, paired with specific Scenes and Sequences to fill the timeline.
I start with arcs. Usually three or four, each labelled clearly with what needs to happen and what the overall theme of the arc is. They are written down on a set of cards, much like my character motivations, and kept close for reference.
After that I begin to distil the parts I’d just gathered up into scenes (chapters/sequences/whateveryawannacallem) and write them down on the line that I mentioned at the beginning.
Does that mean that everything is now set in stone and writing this will have lost some measure of its excitement? Hell no. There is still a lot to discover, and the outline will never survive entirely intact once the characters show up and begin having their say. But I will not be lost. I’ll have a compass, and that compass is incredibly reassuring when writers block comes knocking. Since all you’ve got to do now is laugh in its face and slap it around with your handy outline.
But Taaaafff, you might cry. Do I really need to outline? It’s boring and I just wanna write. Well. Nothing wrong with that. Valiant Remedy was written entirely only based on the ending in sight, with maybe four scenes that wanted in there, while everything else just had to fall in place around it. Admittedly though, Valiant was my first ever long project, and I think I came away from this with a desire to be a little bit more organised.