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!