On my previous post, I talked about discovering the importance of writing an outline before starting your manuscript. It took me a year of avoiding the obvious signs, (books, my critique partners, my husband), for me to finally get it through my thick skull that if I wanted to tell my story right, I had to put in the work!
If I did this a year ago, maybe I’d have a book published by now? Who knows, wishful thinking.
Anyways I will share with you the steps that I’ve taken to get me to the point I’m at today. I will also post links to websites where you’ll be able to find very useful and valuable FREE information that will help you on your journey to writing your manuscript.
First things first:
Before starting an outline which will be the bare bones of your story, you need to know who your characters are. Many authors have different ways of doing it. Some can get away with jotting down quick notes about their main characters such as names, date of birth, family, job, where they live, and their goals. The characters live in their heads and do not need to be on paper. I tried that approach. I followed character charts of the books I’ve read and thought I’d done a pretty good job. I used those charts during my first attempt at writing. It was okay, except my characters came out two-dimensional. I realized I needed to go deeper into my characters in order to truly figure out who they were and what they wanted.
I discovered the most wonderful character outline chart I’ve ever seen. Go to this link, http://charlottedillon.com/CharacterChart. Charlotte Dillon has created the ultimate character chart that will not only bring your characters to life, you will know them as well as you know yourself. It’s a five-page printout that covers categories I never dreamed of when doing a chart. The basics, name, date of birth, physical descriptions, etc. are there. But have you ever thought about their child hood? The color of their bed rooms? And then there’s your character’s character. How do they drive their cars? What kind of magazines do they read? I’m telling you, this chart will give you everything you need and more; it will turn your character turn into a real, breathing person you can relate to.
If you can see that person as being real, then so will your reader. Be sure to check Ms. Dillion’s web page for more tips and articles on writing.
For more tips on writing, be sure to visit Writer’s Digest. http://writersdigest.com/GeneralMenu/
The chart took me approximately two weeks to fill out for my hero and heroine, it’s that deep. You can’t rush through it because you have to think and put yourself into your characters shoes to fill it out. It’s as if the characters are drawn out of your imagination and slowly reveal their true selves by the end.
TIP: I’m not into astrology, but one question asks what your character’s birthday/astrological sign is. This link, http://zodiac-signs-astrology.com/zodiac-signs will answer questions about your character’s temperament and work ethics help you discover how your characters will react in certain circumstances. It even tells how they’d react to sex!
Once you’ve discovered your characters, next its time to plot the story. What happens in Acts one, two and three?
The Dreaded Outline Made Easy, (well sort of…)
Some people can get away with writing these things down; I thought I could, too. But upon learning from my critique partners that my story was lacking conflict, I realized the story had not been properly laid out. The funny part about this is a year ago, I discovered this free trial of a program called Power Structure. It’s a program for writers of novels, screenwriters and playwrights.
It intimidated me to the point I only briefly played around with it. But after spending all this time discovering my characters and what their goals and motivations were, I felt it was an injustice to simply write out a one-two-three, etc, etc, outline. So once again, I dived into the work and played around with program. It took about three weeks to completely fill out each and every scene, to break it down Act by Act. But when it was done, I had twenty-two chapters outlined. An easy to read Beginning, Middle and End of my story.
Now what???? How did this come in handy????
Having such a detailed Character Chart and story outline has enabled me to reach one of my first writing goals. You’d think it would be to just write a story. Nope, I’d been there and done that. For the first time I set myself a time limit. I gave myself thirty-days to write the raw first draft of my story, A Heart Not Easily Broken. Sounds like it should kick my butt right?
Having spent five-weeks of painstaking work into developing the story and characters, I now know their story inside and out. I get up every morning, take care of my household, (I’m a stay at home mom), before heading to my laptop. I turn it on, pull my Power Structure story outline and click on the chapter I’m working on for the day. Right there in front of me are detailed notes on the key scene points for that chapter. I know immediately what my writing goals are for the day. Will I be able to write the whole scene or just half? If I have a question about what may character’s responses will be, I just flip my note book open with the seventeen hand-written pages of the Character Outline to put me back in their heads and begin to write.
Having the Character Chart and outline make it possible for me not to waist time stressing for several hours trying to figure out what is supposed to happen next or wonder WWMCD? (what would my character do?) This has been extremely valuable for my time management. Just because I’m a stay at home mom does not mean I always have free time. Errands, homework, projects, after school/during school functions, cooking dinner, doing hair, in short being a wife and mother, take precedent over my writing. Have I been perfect about my time management? I can’t lie, nope, I haven’t. But I’ve gotten better. As of today, I have four days left to my writing deadline. Today, before writing this post, I completed chapter eighteen and will be starting chapter 19 next. Will I reach my deadline? Yes I will.
Just because you’ve written an outline, it does not mean that you have to stick to it like glue. Use your outline as a guide post to where you are in your story and where you want your story to go. If, as you write, you realize something needs to change, change it! Need to add a new character? Do it! Need to delete a scene or add a new one? Do it!
My original outline stopped at twenty chapters. As I’ve followed it, I have deleted scenes and changed POV’s of a scene. One character, who is my heroine, Ebony’s best friend and will have a book of her own, tapped me on the shoulder one day and said, “Hey! Don’t wait till my book to show what I’m thinking, do it now, right here. That way readers will know exactly where I am when this story ends and where I am when mine’s begins, because, let’s face it, I’m all that.” Yasmine’s got a lot of attitude, you’re gonna love her. So I did and what do you know, it works! When I reached chapter sixteen, Ebony and Brian, my H/H, made an appearance beside my desk and informed me that the tension level wasn’t good enough. I was told it was too lame. I needed more from them to build the stories climax. Just because she’s black and he’s white did not mean the ending would be realistic enough. In short, they’ve hijacked their ending. I guess I won’t know how the story truly ends until they tell me.
(As I write, I’m looking over my shoulder to make sure no one appears with that ‘special’ white jacket that makes you hug yourself, you know what I mean…)
I hope the information I’ve provided will help you discover the depth of your characters and the outline of your story. Good luck !