Everything is better when it’s in rainbow!
I spent my weekend (and my birthday… and the two days since my birthday…) outlining my first draft of THE IRON WOOD. Granted, I have had some other things to do, like go out to dinner with my friends on my birthday, and attempt to go see the Tim Burton exhibit downtown today only to be turned away by the huuuuge line, and console ourselves with hot chocolate (such a terrible fate!). But mostly I have been outlining.
This is something I do not really do much of. I’ve always been a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person, and tend to rebel against outlining on principle. That said, I recently learned the post-it technique from my writing group back in the U.S., which is made up of Odyssey workshop grads. It was so helpful for the people who used it that I had to try it myself.
It might seem strange to outline something after you’ve written it, rather than before, but I shall explain my (totally brilliant) reasoning. When I finished this first draft of TIW, and was thinking back over it in terms of revision, I realized that I didn’t actually have it in my head very firmly. The specifics of scenes, what order in which they occur, what little hints and tidbits of information get revealed when, etc.–and one of my big fears about revising is that I’ll accidentally re-order something very important, and the hint in the scene will get lost and make the reveals at the end of the book seem to come out of nowhere.
So while I tend not to outline BEFORE I write, when I reached the end of the first draft of TIW and was like “Okay, what did I just write?” outlining it seemed like a REALLY good idea. It took me a lot longer than I expected (days rather than hours) given that most of the post-its only have a few words or, at best, a few bullet points, written on them. But it involved re-reading each scene multiple times to figure out A) what the basic events in the scene were, B) what the basic shifts in character dynamic were, and C) what hints/information gets handed out, and then boiling that down small enough to fit on the note cards.
The result? I now know my manuscript backwards and forwards, and editing seems a LOT less daunting. Plus, being a very visual person, it’s very easy for me to just look at my wall and SEE it.
To give you guys an idea of what I did, in case anyone has severe revision phobia like me and wants a similar jumping off point, I took some pictures this evening right after I finished the outlining. (Also, it is to remind me of how clean and orderly it looks right now, because I know it will not ever be so pretty again once I start moving things around and cutting and adding.)
Act one is on the top row, act two in the middle, and act three on the bottom. Each scene gets its own post-it note, whether it’s a whole chapter long or just a page. Laying it all out this way makes it really easy to see that act two is VERY long. There was not enough wall space for it, and it had to go around the corner. Now, in general, the middle act is one of the longer ones and the third act is the shortest, but I don’t think it should be quite this dramatic. I actually thought that the beginning of the book needed the most trimming, but during this rereading/outlining process I learned, to my surprise, that there is SO much deadwood in the middle. I’m going to be able to just run in there with a weedwacker and have fun.
The GREEN post-its are the actual events/surface purposes for the scenes. Every scene has its own green post-it, because every scene (get this!) has something happening in it. Now, the BLUE post-it notes are TOP SECRET hints that build up to the big reveals toward the end of the book (and after the reveal, the blue post-its refer to stuff that leads Lark to her final decision, that come off what she learns in the big reveal). The PINK post-its represent–and yes, I am a dork–the loooove story. As you can see, we don’t meet the potential love interest until Act Two — another reason I wanted to trim down Act One, so that we meet Oren sooner. (To be completely honest, the pink post-its don’t actually have much to do with the romance aspect–they have to do with Oren and his backstory and how it gets revealed throughout the story, but I can’t be more specific without being TOTALLY SPOILERFUL).
Just for fun: my “workstation” right after I finished outlining. Bits of my manuscript are everywhere (pro tip: NUMBER YOUR PAGES OMG WHY WASN’T I THINKING AHEAD), stacks of post-its, a Sharpie, crumpled post-its that were thrown away. Plus, the most important thing of all…
Closeup of workstation picture: empty packet of chocolates. gave them to me on my birthday. They are quite, quite gone now. Hey, no one ever said I had to be HEALTHY while I was working…
Anyway, that is just my method for making it SEEM easier to get started on this revision process, which seems completely daunting to me. I hope it’s helpful, and I’d love it if you guys would share any tips you have for revision. This is definitely something new to me–this really in-depth revision process, I mean. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
I definitely plan on using post-its/notecards when I revise. I especially like how you color-coded different aspects of each scene.
I’ve discovered that I’m a really visual person. Yeah, I wrote the damn book, but I didn’t really KNOW it very well until I could see it all at once in one place, laid out like that.
I definitely know that feeling.
This is so cool! Man, I wish I had the gumption (and lovely colorful stickynotes!) to do this!
But no…I make boring old timelines instead 😛
Revising isn’t so bad once you really throw yourself into the process. It gets easier as you go along!
The sticky notes were retardedly expensive here (they are not in the U.S.) and so I wandered around to a bunch of different stores with my long-suffering housemate, who ended up finding me some decently cheap ones. I kept insisting that I needed them to be multicolored, which didn’t help!
Glad to know that the revising gets easier as you go — today will be DAY ONE of actual rewriting. Not looking forward to it!
I loved this post, particularly because of the pictures! I’m about to do my own outlining for condensing my series, but I’m a bullet-points kind of girl. Maybe when my office is set up I can reserve a wall for the post its though; they look so fun!
Thank you, Sav! I normally can’t really do much with pictures because writing is not exactly a visually stimulating activity. So I was perhaps disproportionately excited to actually get to take pictures of something.
Let me know how your outlining goes, and if you stumble across any gems of advice… this is definitely one area in which I am completely inexperienced.
It’s really cool to see this process! I feel like this post-it outlining technique may be applicable to different types of writing projects as well. Did you do an outline on paper as well? And out of curiosity, are the events represented by green post-it notes more or less equivalent in page length, or do they vary a lot?
I was actually just talking about this with my friend Brendan, as I was explaining this process and making him drag me all over Melbourne looking for cheap post-it notes. It works extremely well for fiction and non-fiction, essays, scientific papers, reports, etc. The beauty of it is that you can see the structure SO clearly, and change it around with no effort, and actually see what effect that change is going to have on later points. It’s super helpful.
The post-its, unfortunately, represent a range of lengths. I wish that I could have had a bunch of different-sized ones, so I could have longer post-its to represent longer scenes, but alas, I did not. In general though, the longer the scene, the more writing on the post-it — and usually the more writing on the pink and blue post-its, as well. Not a universal rule, but it does help me see whether the scenes are serving more than one purpose or if they’re just sitting there uselessly (and therefore need to be cut).
I’ve heard of the notecarding/post-it method and I tried it once but it didn’t work for me. I believe the reason it didn’t was because I didn’t know what I wanted to write, though. As I was trying to fill out notecards, I was failing madly since I had no idea what the story was about. So I threw ’em all out. But that was a looong time ago.
I would definitely try it after finishing a draft, though! For writing I usually do a vague one or two page outline (or it stays confined to my brain, like my current WIP) and then I just write. It would definitely help to have a visual aid while revising though–I think I’d be lost if I tried to do it otherwise. Condensing scenes into one or two sentences seems to be the best way to go about it, so when I do get to revision (I’m totally confident I will now :o) hehe) I’ll definitely give it a try.
You seriously have no idea how happy it makes me that you’re making such progress. In part I just know how that FEELS, you know? After years of getting basically nowhere, when I finally buckled down and started really working it felt amazing. So I know the sense of accomplishment that brings.
Anyway–I think you and I have similar outlining/pre-story methods. I tend to write down a few key things, just to be sure I don’t forget them, and then just go. My “outlines” are not so much outlines as they are scattered idea fragments that would make absolutely no sense except to me.
Happy belated birthday!!! Haha I LOVE the post-its! Useful AND decorative! Well done, it’s so exciting to see you pushing ahead so valiantly 🙂 Also, are those Haighs chocolates? They are my FAVOURITE. And I’m totally going to Melbourne next week, hopefully I have better luck with the Tim Burton exhibit. :S
Bwahaha, thank you for the birthday wishes! It was in fact a very happy birthday!
YES THEY ARE HAIGHS
KNOWS ME WELL
There is no such chocolates in America and it is completely sad-making.
Advice re: Tim Burton–buy your tickets online in advance (you need a printer though) and get there when the exhibit opens. You can just walk right in, and the crowds are much smaller. (We did this today and it was great.)
Thanks for the tip! I’m SO excited! I’ve never been to Melbourne before, I can’t wait!
PS If you’re a chocolate lover, you should try going to Kokoblack if you haven’t already. (It’s a chocolate cafe) There’s a dark chocolate with a raspberry ganache which is to die for!
The last time I was here, we went to Kokoblack as part of my birthday celebration (this was back in like… 2007) and got some sort of CHOCOLATE EXPLOSION pre-set menu where they just bring like chocolate ice cream and mousse and chocolates and cake and aughdkfjbvuresd *seizure*
This is soooo useful, thanks for sharing it and what explaining what the different coloured post-its were for. I’m afraid I’m probably one of those revision-averse people and this looks like a really clear-eyed way of assessing a novel draft objectively (or near it at least).
Yay, you’re welcome! Glad it’s useful. I learned it from the critique group of Odfellows in my area at home, quite a wise group of people.
Yeah, the revision process is one of those things that I think I am overly scared of. I think once I get into it it won’t seem so bad, but looking at it from the outside it seems just monumentally hard. I had absolutely no idea where to start. This has really helped me at least hold the whole thing in my mind and have a better feel for it.
This is for you!
Oh my god, how cute are you? Thanks <3
I am adorable, naturally.
I thought it was funny that they posted a rejection one a couple days after a friend got a rejection, and a finished draft one shortly after you finished a draft!
Wow, this method of plotting looks both fun and effective I may have to try it. It looks pretty time consuming though. How long did it take you?
I’ve written out the new and improved plot for my novel but have yet to edit it into the shape I want it. My revision process seems to be to ignore the manuscript in need of revision and start an entirely new project. Fail.
It took me a couple of days, but I couldn’t make myself work on it for very long at a given sitting. I think I could’ve done it in one day if I’d just focused, but I find it a lot harder to sit and focus on outlining and revision, as opposed to writing itself.
I look at the time I spent on it as an investment. No more will I think “Okay, so hang on… does she meet the guy before or after that thing with the cats?” and have to shuffle through 105,000 words to find out. Instead I can just look at my wall. And really, just the process of DOING it has really settled things in my mind. I remember it now without having to look.
I think the time saved for those reasons makes up for the time spent doing it. But that’s just me, because I have a terrible memory and yes, I actually DO forget things that happen in my own book. It’s a bit embarrassing.
I am fighting the “start a new project” impulse with EVERYTHING I’VE GOT. Seriously. I so badly want to get to work on my B&tB retelling, only the fact that I’m not letting myself get to the library for research is stopping me!