NANOWRIMO + 21: SO done with outlining

Jan 10 2021 Update
On Jan 4, I packed away all my hardcopy files, sunk the electronic files for my NANO projects deep in me laptop directory, and saved just the germ of The Child of Sea and Sand for a picturebook story called The Selkie’s Buttons. For the next year I am committing myself to picturebooks. And will come back to chapter books and midgrade novels in 2022. You’ll find the ‘full story’ here

gave it my best shot.

I spent October outlining a novel Wherever You Are, and exploring various tools and structures for creating an outline – so I could pass the info on to anyone else who wanted to know how to do it.

On November 1, I started off working on scenes that I had outlined.

I kept it up until November 7.

Confused much?

Confused much?

At which point I decided ‘Sod this for a lark’, and packed away my binder, notebooks, spreadsheets and checklists. By the time I started writing the story I had planned, I was sick to death of it, knew too much about it and everyone in it. So I decided to start a new project from scratch without an outline in front of me.

I am now 33.482 words into Child of Sea and Sand, and loving every minute.

I have listed over 20 scenes by name – and coming up with more almost every day – and work from that list, some items of which might include a few notes to get me started. But that’s all I need. I don’t have time for The Muse or any faith in Inspiration. But I do trust in some intuitive knowledge of story and rely on the ‘hum’ (as Scott Olen Butler calls it in his book From Where You Dream – The Process of Writing Fiction), or ‘ache’ (as my old short story mentor Alex Keegan named it) of the main character’s basic yearning to keep me moving forward.

And I do that mainly by developing scenes. The basic elements of which include:
a) the scene problem,
b) the conflict that comes out of whatever obstacle is in the way of the solution to the problem,
b) the main character’s emotion that drives that scene,
c) recognition of whether this is a Pre-scene, Main Scene or Sequel, and
d) the outcome/complication/reversal that will continue to drive the narrative at the end of the scene.

At the end of each day I read the pages, mark up threads as throughlines that I want to be aware of as I move forward, but I don’t do any editing then. Nor will I until I have written all the scenes that I think the story needs.

The second draft work (and often my favourite part of the the whole process) will involve figuring out what scene goes where, and only then will I dig deeper into the text to identify and work on what needs fixing.

This is pretty well the way I have worked for years, without necessarily having articualted all the moving parts. I’ve long since stopped listening to advice about what anyone should do in the process of developing whatever creative work they are involved in. 

Everyone works differently. It’s worth trying out other processes from time to time. But I always come back to doing it my way.

Will I achieve the 50,000-word NANO goal by the end of November? Maybe. But possibly not. If the story is done earlier, that’s when I will quit and move on to working on the next draft of Child of Sand and Sea, or whatever it’s titled at that point.

But what I have finally been able to do, after the past eighteen months working on nonfiction, is to find the flow of fiction again. And I am loving being totally immersed in the Cornwall of my childhood, its beaches, cliffs, villages and language, and the old follktales of giants, knockers, piskies and selkies.

selkieMerryn Prowse swims with the seals on Porthallow Beach