Process in Progress #5 – I Need to Figure Out My Editing Process

Things That Happened While My Back Was Busted:

  1. I watched The Princess Bride, and in doing so discovered that . . . holy shit, Inigo Montoya is really the protagonist of that story. Like, the Han Solo factor of “Why am I not following this guy the whole time?” couples so strongly with his arc getting the most satisfying payoff that I came away from this last viewing like, “How is he not the protagonist?” Seriously, having read the book, it’s bizarre seeing how much the screenplay beefs up Westley (as if someone behind the scenes knew he paled in comparison). Potentially a post coming up about that. In the meantime, seriously, ask anyone to say a quote from The Princess Bride and consider how quickly they answer, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
  2. I started playing Hades. Possibly a post about that coming up as well.
  3. I trimmed the tip of the tree branch that kept bashing at my window, which I only mention because just imagine walking down the street and looking up to see a Hispanic man with wild, Medusa-like hair, Danny DeVito-panting as he clumsily hacks at a thin branch with an old bread knife. That was me. It only took seconds, but just in case no one saw it, now you did.
  4. I barely got any editing done.

Being totally real; my back was bad enough that I just stopped caring about anything. Coupled with the holiday, I just totally stopped trying.

However, the last time I edited (Wednesday) I did realize something.

I have no idea if I’m over- or under-editing.

To explain, my editing process so far has been as follows:

  1. The Big Fix Pass. I consider big feedback I’ve gotten from my writer’s group and pair that with larger edits I wanted to make to a chapter.
  2. The Small Tweaks Pass. After a break, I read back over the chapter, focusing on tweaking everything so it reads well and makes sense. Especially descriptions, which I realize I go super ‘implied magic’ on in my first drafts. Shit like, “The wind swirled blue, stalks wayward swaying,” which is not actually something from my first draft of Memory, but does perfectly represent the kind of starry-eyed bullshit I write sometimes. Although I’m much more guilty of under-describing because I don’t want to flood the read with worldbuilding. It’s weird to have to reign that reflex in (from what feels like the wrong direction), but I’ve really enjoyed getting to go ham with additional descriptions so far.
  3. The Line Feedback Pass. I whip out whatever line edits I have from my writing group and go over the chapter one last time, which works really well when it comes to catching anything I missed.

And that’s it. It definitely feels like a healthy approach to editing.

However . . . the problem is the Small Tweaks.

It definitely feels great every time I find a paragraph that doesn’t make sense. When I catch a description like “he rode the elevator down and the wall fell away” (paraphrasing here), I’m always super pleased to catch that, “No, the wall isn’t ‘falling’—it’s literally going up past the character because the elevator is going down, so I really need to find a new phrasing here.” Moments like that always feel like small victories, where I’m teasing out the best ways to describe a scene.

But I also feel like that side of myself—that focuses on literal meaning, clarity, and flow—can keep going forever if I let it.

Maybe that’s not true. Maybe if I went back and looked over the first chapter again, I wouldn’t find anything new to edit. But I can’t help feeling like I’d find myself thinking, “Well, is ‘chartreuse’ 2% more accurate to the color of the scum in this run-off ditch?”

But then, at the same time, if I don’t go back, am I going to feel massively unsatisfied when I finish editing this book? I’m two chapters in and every time I think about moving forward, there’s this nagging sensation that something’s wrong. And, being fair to the editing-Terminator part of my brain, I’m usually right when I get this feeling.

I think that what I need to do is add one more pass over a chapter. And, just imagining it, I’m sure it’s going to come down to this:

  1. I look over the chapter and fully accept that I can move on. That might mean finding a balance: adding charming descriptions to make things less clinical and further smoothing out moments that don’t make enough sense. Either way, I need to walk away feeling . . . Okay. This is going to sound super intense, but at this phase in my writing career, I think I need to walk away from every chapter feeling like it would be okay if it got published immediately. Like, if no one else ever touched the Prologue, I’d still be okay with the public reading it.
    Or . . .
  2. I look at the Prologue again and my eyes glaze over, indicating that my brain can’t handle another pass right now, which I would totally accept. And which would definitely constitute some kind of Final Pass on a 3rd Draft after I finish this edit.

Obviously, I don’t know which of these things will happen. But I do know that either way, all that matters is that I walk away from those edits feeling certain I can walk away.

Especially because, around all of this, there’s a time constraint; I still don’t live in a world where I can casually take another year to edit this novel. At best, I have until June of 2022, but I seriously can’t take that long or I’ll feel like a failure. Just personally, as a human being, I need to be submitting Memory by February at the absolute latest.

That’s . . . a lot of pressure.

Regardless, I’m grateful I was able to write all of this out here. Because when I started writing this post, I genuinely didn’t know how I’d solve this editing problem.

But now I’m both excited and terrified to attempt that one last pass and hope that I come away from it feeling certain. Of anything.

~~~

Thank for reading. I feel like I have to follow up on this next week, so that’s what I’ll probably do. If you’d like to find out what happens—if I’m relieved or infinitely more stressed out come next Sunday—then you can give my blog a Follow via the button on the left side-bar (on PC), or the top-right hamburger menu (on mobile).

Until next time, take care, stay safe, and if you’ve ever enjoyed any rogue-like, you owe it to yourself to play Hades. As a fan of the genre, Hades is easily my favorite ever. I seriously haven’t felt this strongly about a game recommendation since Spiritfarer.

Anyway, have a good week, everyone!

Process in Progress #4 – The “Promises Tally” Run

Hello!

It’s been a crazy week for me writing-wise.

The last time I talked about my outlining process specifically, I explained that I had a hyper detailed system for laying out my stories before writing them.

This post is about how I tweaked that outlining system this week. And how it was super satisfying.

If you’re new here, yes, I am a writer. But also, I am the most bureaucratic writer that exists. Seriously, from what I’ve seen (and I’m just realizing it as I write this—holy shit), I weirdly break my stories down into data–on clean, literal spreadsheets–more than any other writer I know. I seriously use Excel.

But whatever–the point is, today, we’re talking about how I decided to do a “Promises Tally” editing run on my outline. And how that is going super well.

Because My Original Outlining Approach Was Too Much

If you remember “Process in Progress #1,” I detailed the actual outline I use, with pictures, explaining how it works and focuses heavily on a part of the novel writing process I didn’t take into account before–promises.

In that post, I also made a quick point about how the Promises Outline was pared down, because when I first devised it, I also color-coded each and underlined parts of every beat that met the promise (which I rightly stopped doing because that was too much, even for me.)

Whelp, here I am admitting that assigning promises to every beat while I was writing those beats, was also too much. That approach just destroyed my flow.

So I stopped noting promises for each beat as I wrote, just like I’d stopped color-coding and underlining significant parts of each beat.

But the key phrase there is, “as I wrote.” The idea was always to go back and fill in the promises above each part of my outline, but I would only do that after writing the majority of it first (so more of a review process that I could use to fix an easily tweakable story skeleton).

Well, this week, after having 97% of the outline finished (basically everything but the finale), I went back for that run, intending to add all of the story’s promises to each beat, hoping it would be easy.

And I discovered that not only was it easy–it was massively gratifying.

And it turned into an amazing, data-generating QA pass.

The Promises Tally Run

I’m a big sarcasm guy, but I am not being sarcastic about this.

Maybe it’s because assigning promises while writing was such a slog, but doing it as part of my final edit before writing prose was fast and weirdly satisfying.

Such that I thought, “Wait. I can get more data from this.”

And thus was born the Promises Tally Run.

Essentially (and it feels like I’m being the most opaque rollercoaster admitting this but) . . . . I decided to color-code my promises. And tally them.

I don’t know why WordPress crushes these images so hard, even at their preferred resolution, but if you’d like to read a slightly more legible version of this screenshot, click on the image and it will open in a new tab. Also, my apologies.

I know. Just hear me out.

This color-coding is really just a way to make this outline a heat map. At a glance, I can tell that a beat, scene, or chapter heavily focuses on a particular character or certain aspects of the plot.

And the tally makes that effort practical for me as a writer. The goal of this run was, as mentioned, to manage my arcs, which I’ve tied to promises—at least for this novel. A tally of ‘promises advanced’ by the end of each chapter makes it unavoidably clear how much I’ve advanced each promise and arc per chapter. And an additional “MS Total” tally makes it clear what progress I’ve made with them in the outline overall.

Again, click the image if you’d like to see a larger, slightly less garbage version.

I know that this looks like a bit much–and trust me, this is not one of those times where I’m suggesting you try this out yourself. What I will say, however, is that it’s yielded interesting data that’s already made me consider how to write future projects.

For example, Memory has a solid spread between the progression of its main characters’ arcs, which is awesome. I’ve done some smoothing on those numbers, of course, but regardless, I’m very excited, because it confirmed that, yes, the pace-crushing dream sequences I was going to put in were as unnecessary as they felt.

Also, the final arcs for the protagonist intertwine in ways I didn’t realize until I had to choose which arcs were advanced by certain scenes.

Also, Memory has a lot of action, which is fine—it is an Action Adventure Fantasy novel. But I definitely want to bring that tally down in my next projects. And probably make separate tallies for things like “Action,” “Drama,” and “Intrigue,” so I can tell which specific avenue is lacking in the subgenre I’m trying to write.

At this point, I’m up to Chapter 10 of this run because I’m taking my time with it (not rushing for this one aspect of my process at the very least), but I’m definitely going to be outlining the end of the novel by next weekend, and moving onto prose shortly after.

If I can combine the speedy approach to prose from my NaNoWriMo runs with this process, streamlining as I go . . .

. . . then I think I can actually become a novelist.

But I’m not going to jinx that.

I’m just going to post this.

And get back to my outline.

Wish me luck.

~~~

My name is Louis Santiago and I’m in a hurry, so no crazy closing remarks this time.

If you liked this post, you can give me a follow on the Sidebar on the left side of the screen (if you’re on PC) or the drop down menu on the top right (if you’re on mobile). I don’t write for algorithms, but Likes and Follows are the only way I can tell what people like and what they don’t, so consider dropping one of those if you liked this post.

That said, take are, stay safe, and stay cool—it’s pretty hot in New York already and Summer hasn’t even started. Hooray.

Drink water!

Process in Progress #3 – My Villain Isn’t Palpatine (and, Seriously, Thank God)

I had to do my taxes this week.

They just got away from me. I was definitely spoiled last year, able to get to them at the point I naturally would have (in June), so when I learned that they were due earlier this year, my brain just kept hearing “Not yet though,” until days before they were due.

Cool.

So I busted my ass to do them and managed to finish before Resident Evil: Village and Subnautica: Below Zero came out (because the true hell would’ve been owning but not being able to play two of my most anticipated games of 2021 because I had to finish extremely tedious paperwork), but, as you can imagine, this week was still a major pain. Which is also why this post is a little late.

That said though, somewhere in the mix, nearly lost, was a super important triumph:

I finally finished the backstory for my villain.

And, to frame that success in the most accessible light I can imagine, I have to add that–thank God–he’s not just Palpatine.

That Easy Palpy Goodness

I don’t know if it’s just me . . . but the reflex to make villains like Palpatine . . . is weirdly strong.

I don’t mean that I make them look like him or act like him; none of my villains has ever criticized the protagonist for their lack of vision and shot lightning out of their hands.

But, because I grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy, and the prequels came out while I was in high school, Palpatine’s backstory stands out more than any other backstory for any other villain I love. Pro-o-o-o-obably because no other villain I love has full movies devoted to their backstory.

Well, I mean, Darth Vader obviously does, but I always choose to forget that his backstory is “he hated sand a lot.”

Okay–jokes aside, I never really think of Vader as a villain of Star Wars; in my eyes, he’s more of a puppet used by the real villain: Palpatine.

Anyway, my point is, I watched Palpatine become the Emperor in my teens and early 20’s, so whenever I think about my own villains, even if they’re a floating mask that looks like an eye and attaches to people’s faces, forcing them to do its bidding (yes, one of my early villains was basically Majora’s Mask), when I try to dive into their backstory, it is always super duper easy to imagine that they were a politician in an ancient era who fomented civil war that allowed them to gain power.

The villain for Memory, who actually is an old, male emperor, really re-e-e-e-e-eally challenged that reflex.

Thankfully, a totally different problem with his backstory helped me shake off that case of the Palpies.

A Forced Restart

I absolutely hate scrapping massive blocks of worldbuilding and starting over. It’s just soul-crushing every time, especially if it’s tangible pages of writing you’ve already done that you literally have to delete.

And even though it was written in outline form, my first run at my villain’s backstory was many pages long. Wa-a-a-a-ay longer than it should’ve been.

The thing is, I was forced to restart it because it was built around a discrepancy with my magic system that didn’t make sense–a super esoteric plot hole that would only be visible to me on the back end . . . which meant I just could not let it stand. Because I just obsessively hate plot holes so much that it’s borderline dysfunctional.

Anyway, I smoothed out the magic system, went back to restart the villain’s backstory, and realized that one of his major drives (learning how to wield magic better than his siblings so he could make a name for himself like his father stressed all of them should) just wouldn’t work anymore (because, post change, no one can wield magic except for gods). That meant I couldn’t go the route of him just being power-obsessed.

Which was, ultimately, such a blessing that I’m here writing about it. Because, without realizing, I’d slathered on a little bit too much of the Palpy on the building blocks of my villain. I didn’t go full Palpatine, but the dude was an old man who manipulated different political parties to fight while hiding he had crazy powers . . . Definitely too much Palp.

But being forced to find a new, more unique motivation yielded a backstory that feels weird and interesting. I can’t share it here, but the major thing is that my villain wasn’t an insane narcissist who manipulated his way into power. Instead, he was just a guy who had pretty intense issues, put in a variety of world-specific situations that ultimately made him a monster.

And I guess that’s the key term here: world-specific.

This is, in no way, an instructional post. If anything, this is just me venting about how I’m still learning how to fight bad reflexes when it comes to my creative process.

But I think the most important take away here is that my new villain’s backstory is world-specific; the things that made him who he is are only possible in the world of this story, and that feels so integral to making him unique that “How are their motivations world-specific?” is going to be in my villain-design tool kit from now on. Because that alone will force me to think more creatively about the world as a whole, and that just feels right to me.

Whether or not that’s right for you is totally up to you. I’m not here trying to preach today. I’m just a man freshly done with his taxes, venting.

And celebrating. Cause my WIP got several degrees less typical this week, and that’s always a good feeling.

And, more important than anything: because I finally finished the villain’s backstory, I can finally finish the outline this week.

Which means I’m just a week out . . . from finally writing prose again.

I’m so stoked I could open-hand slap a cake right now.

~~~

To be clear, I’ve never open-hand slapped a cake before.

But I absolutely could right now.

Anyway, thanks for reading. I post here every Sunday. Full warning though: this is just an aspiring Fantasy writer’s blog, and, as you can see, I post whatever weird, sometimes entirely self-centered bullshit I decide to write about each week. I just do not cater to algorithms; in fact, I usually don’t write about new fads until literal years after they’re popular. Example: I watched Terminator: Dark Fate for the first time the other day. I just don’t care about being timely. I care about writing, and experiencing stories outside of their hype windows. So if you’re down for reading the perspectives of a guy who cares a lot about storytelling but doesn’t give a single shit about what’s happening on the Epic Games Store, well, hey, there’s a Follow button on the side bar on the left side of the screen (on PC) or the upper right corner drop down menu (on mobile).

Until next time, stay safe and try making resin jewelry. It’s a relaxing, easy hobby. Just sit somewhere pretty; pop open a window; wear safety goggles, a face mask, and gloves; mix up some resin with whatever colors; pour it and leave it for a day. Come back, see what worked out and what didn’t, try something else.

Just allow something fun and uncomplicated to exist outside of your control. Because, especially if you’re a writer, you deserve to enjoy some chaotic beauty in your life.

Process in Progress #2 – The Character Wall

Hi there.

I had a bunch of things I wanted to write about today, and, in choosing one, I wound up shooting wa-a-a-a-ay over the typical release deadline. Apologies for that.

But I didn’t want to publish another life update. And I didn’t want to vent about my presence on social media either (which I’m displeased with not from a popularity standpoint, but from an “I hate what I do on there” standpoint [more on that in the Afterword]).

What I did want to do: actually talk about writing again, which I feel I haven’t done for a while.

The topic? The weird way a story requires you to prioritize certain character arcs. In a roundabout way. Let me explain.

I’m Honing One of My Protagonist’s Motivations
(& I Was Having a Harder Time with It Than I Wanted)

The situation: one of the protagonists in my current WIP is named Kole Buchanon. As that WIP is a rewrite of a book I wrote years ago, Kole’s personality has drastically changed.

In the original, he was insecure from a lifetime of being mistreated. Lacking in confidence, he was often unwilling to face challenges and his arc centered on defying that–putting himself in harm’s way to help other people. The hang up of being mistreated is something I still want to use in a future book somewhere, because I think that has merit, but the arc was as typical as they come.

New Kole is a capable, fledgling rebel. A person who’s challenged the setting’s corrupt Emperor by engaging in (admittedly low-impact) criminal activity. His hang up is experiencing, in the Prologue, the futility of challenging the Emperor when he tries a slightly higher-impact heist and it goes horribly wrong. His arc is . . . still up in the air actually, but that doesn’t matter for this post! Ha ha!

What matters is, in my outline for the rewrite, I kept referring to Original Kole’s arc.

I’m not sure how that happened. I knew he was a different character in the rewrite, but somehow, I focused so heavily on my other protagonist, Memory, that I just didn’t realize the adjustment to his personality was as intense as it was. Or maybe I was just so hellbent on getting the outline done that I didn’t realize I needed to slow down for Kole’s sake?

Either way, all of this came to a head when I got to the last chapters, and finally looked at the notes my writing group gave me about Kole’s motivations: that they weren’t clear. And, after I revisited those motivations and his arc as a whole, I finally realized the mix up.

Now, why am I writing about this at all?

Because, on one hand, after the last session of my writing group, I realized not only that Kole needed a totally new background story, but that the arc he needs for this first novel . . . isn’t going to be his best arc?

Like, I came up with a really awesome arc for him when I was brainstorming what his best character arc could be, but it just doesn’t fit in the first book? He needs to react to the situation in front of him, and that awesome potential arc works way better for a potential sequel?

I definitely explain, but first . . .

The Character Wall

When I realized I needed to rewrite Kole’s past, I realized that there were certain aspects of him that I wanted to focus on.

And, if you’re here exclusively for the “Process in Progress” part, then this is it.

I realized that, with Kole and all of my characters going forward, I want to know:

  1. The Hang Ups – Probably the most important thing for me is going to be the emotional problems that a character has. It’s “hang ups” plural because there are going to be a bunch of these. “Regrets abandoning his family.” “Experienced a lot of horrible things in the war.” Not all of these will heavily impact the plot, but in my mind, they’re as prevalent as “Favorite Color” and way more important.
  2. The Arcs – Specifically the arcs the character is going to go through and how those arcs are split up among the different entries in the series (if it’s a series). I can’t predict this right off the bat–I’ll have to work on each installment of the story before I know what arcs fit where.

But I’m here mentioning all of this now because . . .

A Character’s Arc in a Story Needs to Fit the Story

Okay. Seriously, forgive me for sounding dense.

But what I meant with that heading is . . . a character’s arc can’t just be what you want it to be for a novel.

You can’t just design a setting, establish a plot, and then just force the character’s best arc to happen in that setting and plot if it doesn’t fit.

Kole Buchanon is going to learn some hard truths about his past. It’s going to happen.

But as absolutely bizarre as it is to say, he’s not going to learn any of those truths in the first book.

Because it just doesn’t fit what’s happening and what he’s feeling in the setting and plot I’ve created for the first novel.

Kole can’t reconcile his bad experiences with his family because that just doesn’t work with the theme and plot of the first novel. Even if I tried to wedge it in, with would be rushed, rigid, and would not land like it would in book 2.

So I can’t do it in book one. And, as a person who’s never written a sequel, that blows my goddamn mind.

The Memory Roadmap–which is a things I have now?–is set for Kole to have his big arc in book 2 and Memory to have hers in book 3.

And, aside from that being weird and surprising, it also brings me a lot of hope.

Because, for the first time in my life, a sequel is coming together in my mind.

And just yes.

Please.

I am so goddamn pumped to write an amazing sequel.

This is a weird milestone that I have to imagine other writers hurdled right over.

But whatever. I’m not them, and I’m massively grateful to be experiencing this progress.

Book 2? I’m coming for you.

~Afterword~

Thanks for reading.

Yeah, about social media–I hate it. LOL I just don’t do it well. Like, when I hop on Twitter, it’s just to look at cute cat videos or get massively angry about political stuff. Or, at the worst of times, I scroll through fandom hashtags and get inspired to talk shit about things I don’t like.

And–I’ve said it so many times on here–I just don’t want to do that anymore. Dissecting multi-million dollar blockbuster films is one thing, but talking shit about something people love–on Twitter–is another thing entirely. Like . . . why? Why shit on someone for being excited about Justice League, or for liking the DCEU in general? I unironically loved Aquaman. It was a stupid, fun spectacle and I’m super excited for it’s sequel.

I’d just rather dole out that love than fling hate.

So, yeah, I’m deleting my Twitter. I would keep it and say positive things, but I’d feel trapped not being able to speak my mind, and speaking my mind has the chance to spark an argument, yadda yadda yadda.

So, on the chance you’re following me there, expect me to just disappear.

And, hey, just follow me here instead.

Where, ya know, we can chat about dumb stuff in more than 280 goddamn characters.

If you enjoyed this post, I do this every Sunday (unless it’s a day like today where I got to posting after 12am). You can always stop by next week for something else that could be anything. Between now and then, I could go to space and write about how that felt. Probably not gonna happen, but maybe.

Anyway, until next time, stay safe, and take care of yourself. Really though–make sure you’re drinking enough water and don’t push it all the time, even if you want to. You are the only person capable of pampering yourself the way you deserve to be pampered. Basic human rights, like water, are a good start.

Bye!

Process in Progress #1 – The “Promises Outline”

My process has always been manic.

It’s 2010 and I’m a plotter, ’cause that’s obviously the way to go! My first novel was a mess even though I outlined it, but that’s only true because I wasn’t thorough enough. “Thorough in what way?” you ask? Why, thorough with my characters’ micro-expressions, of course! This new outline for my rewrite has everything worked out down to gasps and eye rolls!

Of course, the moment characters deviated from that outline (within the prologue) I knew that level of plotting wouldn’t work.

So, it’s December, 2016 and discovery writing is *clearly* the best. My characters are free to do whatever they want without having to adhere to a plot. It’s beautiful, natural, and I finished an entire novel in one month for NaNoWriMo 2020. It’s so comforting to have found the approach that works for me. A little surprising that it’s discovery writing (considering I’m such a chronic organizer when it comes to other projects), but, hey, whatever works.

Only it didn’t work. The plot was incredibly muddled. The intro was especially confusing. Plot lines, intended or implied, were established and then dropped because I didn’t manage them at all (I didn’t even think to because I was so set on the idea that plotting didn’t work).

After that, I spent a long time just thinking about my process. I knew that I’d have to outline whatever I did next, but I also knew that I had to leave it open-ended. I was afraid to tank another few years into another failed novel, so I worked on story structure across a group of short story ideas instead, considering a rewrite of my NaNo 2016 novel on the back burner.

It’s 2020 now and I am very tired. I know that, inherently, there’s something I’m not getting about the writing process. I know that I have a hard time maintaining my plot lines, but I also never want to force my characters to adhere to something. I do not have time to do both of those things, back and forth, to see what works, and I am too busy at work and dealing with my bullshit life to think outside of the box.

Oddly enough, it isn’t until I’m a few months into quarantine, in the heart of a terrifying time, that I find hope.

I’ve already talked about stumbling onto lectures by Brandon Sanderson on YouTube. Those lectures presented his process: a loose outline. Sanderson plots, but is always ready to completely change that plot if his characters aren’t following it. Or if there’s something wrong with its structure. Beyond just talking about it though, Sanderson detailed his process, provided links to his own outlines, answered student questions.

I don’t know if it’s because I was in the middle of quarantine, or if it was because I was listening to my problem being solved by a pro–for free–because he decided to upload videos with the express purpose of helping other writers, but after years of struggling and repeatedly hitting walls, I cried. I know that’s probably weird, but, at a certain point during that first lecture, I teared up.

Because, 20 years into my career, it was the first time I found a professional offering a helping hand (without it being locked behind a contest or a paid seminar), and I could not believe it was exactly the help I needed. If ever there was a moment in my life that felt contrived by fate, that was it.

The interesting thing about those lectures, however, is that Sanderson points out, repeatedly, that his way is not the only way. While talking about his process, he made it clear that there are famous pantsers out there too. And that other plotters might have a completely different process from his.

Which was amazing to hear because I knew some of his approach wouldn’t work for me. So, instead of just emulating his to a T, I sat down and devised an outlining process that works for me.

And I figured I’d present that here (and continue presenting it as it evolves), because I need to contribute to this effort of helping other writers in whatever way I can.

So, here, as of August 31st, 2020, is my process:

The “Promises Outline”

My major takeaway from Sanderson’s lectures is that you need to keep track of the promises you make to your readers. My problem was that I’d never even thought of “promises”; I dealt in plot lines, which are different.

A plot line is a facet of the story that you establish and maintain.

A promise is an event that your story implies will happen, whether you intend it to or not. Promises are conveyed by elements of your story that the audience has seen before and thus make assumptions about, and managing those assumptions is essential to composing a novel.

And, yeah, that sounds pretentious, but it’s just the right word; being aware of your promises allows you to direct the reader along the experience you want them to have.

Promises and plot lines often overlap, and that’s fine, because that’s what you want them to do.

That said, let’s get to my process:

Step one, as per Brandon Sanderson, is to start my outlines with a Story Archetypes section:

LS-ArchetypesExample

Note: I’m using Grounded just as a quick example here (I’m not into novelizations, but I have been playing Grounded a bunch lately and this was the quickest route to an easy example. Also, I probably shouldn’t have listed Bug Buddy as a story archetype, but I was extremely excited for lady bug friend.

My goal with Archetypes is to just lay out what’s been done by other stories similar to mine. If my story features a Terminator-like character, for example, I jot down a heading like “I’ll Be Back,” think about the iconic things the Terminator did in Terminator or Terminator 2 (depending on whether my Terminator is a robotic killing machine or a robotic hero), and then I try to summarize those iconic things.

And I do this not so I can emulate those things, but so I can more easily pare them down into Promises:

LS-PromisesExample

The name of the game here is trying to come up with whatever trope events happen in the story archetypes I’ve listed.

Typically, my design standard here is:

Number of the Related Archetype) Heading Summarizing the Promise: Explanation that details how I meet that promise, or why/how I’m going to subvert it (as I did in the “Ol’ One Eye” example above).

Now, when I got to this point during my Memory rewrite, I wound up sitting with Promises for a while, honing them into a framework; with the plot ideas and worldbuilding that I’d already done (on a totally different part of the spreadsheet [and yeah, I use spreadsheets]), I considered what I wanted my story to be. The tone, the arcs for my characters, the balance of the villains.

In the end, when I worked the promises down into a set that I knew I wanted to keep, I started the actual outline like so:

LS-Ch1OutlineExample

Chapter Number: Chapter Title

Chapter Number.Scene Number

Promise Title

Promise Title

Promise Title

Beat Number (and then, in the next cell) Outline Copy

I have to clarify that this is just my current layout. This has changed while outlining Memory 2.0; initially, I also used color-coding and underlines to signify two different things (which I so dropped).

What I’m trying to say here is that I’m still adjusting, and that’s a good thing. This layout is closer than I’ve ever been to working out a process that I can use forever. It is not perfect, but it’s better than writing blind and over-plotting. With this layout, I’ve been able to do what I think of as taking the wrong path (writing a chapter or two that ultimately lead in a bad direction that didn’t work) multiple times with extremely minimal repercussions–losing a day’s worth of work deleting two outline chapters instead of two weeks’ worth deleting two draft chapters. For me, that’s huge.

But, that’s not why I wrote this post; I’m not trying to sell you on this weird, repetitive process I’ve drummed up for myself. What I want–what I’m hoping for–is that someone sees this and goes, “Oh . . . Yeah, wait, I can make my process whatever the fuck I want!” because yeah, you can.

I spent so long jumping between extremes for some reason–trying out other people’s approaches–but the best thing that I did for myself, as a writer, was realize that I could customize my process to work for me as long as I was honest with myself. Everything about it is devised by my preference, from its weird formatting down to the fact that it’s a spreadsheet (it wasn’t just a weird design choice–I love spreadsheets!).

But the key there was self-evaluation. “How do I want to write?” “Is this working for me?” Never, “Am I doing this right?” Never, “Am I following the directions perfectly?”

I have no idea if this process will always work for me, but I know that I can just keep changing it so it will.

And when I do, if I feel like I’ve actually made a template that would work for a lot of people, I’ll absolutely post it here.

And, please, if you have a weird process of your own, I hope you’ll consider sharing it somewhere too.

Because writing fucking sucks. It’s hard, depressing, secretive and shallow. It’s so easy to feel like nothing’s working and there’s nowhere you can go for actual help. I’m not conceited enough to think my process pulled someone out of a rut, but if you are struggling . . .

. . . it’s cool. So am I. We can figure this out together.

~~~

I’m getting this one in just after the buzzer, but I hope you enjoyed regardless. I will be continuing to post about my process as it changes–under the title “Process in Progress”–so although I don’t have a time frame for it, I will be continuing this series in the future. If you enjoyed this post and want to be notified when I post again, please consider giving my blog a Follow.

For next week, I have a bunch of posts lined up, but instead of tying myself down to one by name dropping it now, I’m going to leave my options totally open. I will be posting something next Sunday and it’ll either be really angry or really chill depending on my mood. I hope you consider stopping by.

Until then, please stay safe and take care!