Visualising my WIP

I keep thinking my WIP is so much further along than it actually is.  I keep writing words, but it’s like they pour into some black hole of completed novel underestimation.

For a more realistic view of where I’m at, I colour coded the chapters on Scrivener into three categories: first draft written (dark pink), first draft partially written (light pink), and first draft in synopsis (white), and it came up like this:

TLT ProgressI had actually written Part 1 in its entirety, but once I got to the back end and also started getting some feedback, I realised certain things had to change, so I’ve removed the words that will no longer work (they’re safely tucked away), and interspersed what’s left with notes about what will need to be written as a replacement.  The complete Part 1 I think should be a little under 30k.

Part 2 is pretty close to finished.  It just needs some minor tweaks.  Part 3 should be roughly as long as Part 2, so that’s only about half done.  Part 4 has a lot of short chapters, because they start getting shorter as we get to the finale, so I’m going to guess I’m aiming for 30k there too.

This started off as such a simple story, a fairytale for my daughter about three sisters working together to survive a deadly Labyrinth.  But turns out I am incapable of not complicating things.  Now it’s a crazy, 500 page, action-packed, YA mystery puzzle adventure about the politics of fear.  It’s still for my daughter, just for when she’s a bit older.

In other efforts at keeping the story straight, I have done this to my study wall:

TLT wall


That’s all the key points in my story laid out chronologically, with the stories of the 3 protagonists and the subplots running horizontally through.

Here’s a closer shot of the first bit.  I’ve stuck in images where I’ve been able to find any that help me visualise the characters / settings / moods:

TLT Wall 1


What about you?

Do you do anything to help you visualise or track your writing?



My characters have hijacked my plot

hostage writer charactersHow often have you heard a writer say that they started writing to an outline, but the characters had their own ideas, and before they knew it, their protagonist had left their job, joined a circus, and hooked up with a cult of giant squid worshipping Kaballists?

Well, maybe not that exactly, but every writer is familiar with characters hijacking their plot. In my completely unscientific, anecdotal opinion, it’s the most common reason for considering outlining a waste of time.

A fellow writer expressed his mystification at this phenomenon, asking how anyone could possibly accuse their characters of taking the plot in expected directions, his general sentiment being: you are writing the story, YOU FOOLS.

He does have a point. Sometimes dialogue or action heads off in unintended directions just because I write whatever random thought grabs me in the moment, rather than crafting it to stay on track. But then sometimes capturing those random thoughts can inject my novel with new life, or sometimes my outline has reflected my failure to think through the plotted situation and what it would really be like, and the character reaction I planned is not authentic. These can be good reasons to let the characters take control.

Tips to stick (roughly) to your outline

Outlines have to be living documents.  You are going to make some modifications.  But they don’t have to be modified so much they become useless.  Here are some tips to keep you on track:characters hijack

* Brainstorm!  Brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm.  Explore your subject matter from different angles in the planning phase.  Keep a notepad on you and jot your ideas down.  Make your outline interesting enough you don’t have to deviate.

* Detailed scene outlines showing the dramatic beats of the scene. The action / reaction model, where I spent time during outlining considering what reaction my characters would have to each thing that happened in the scene was really helpful.  Make your outline logical enough that you don’t have to deviate.  Here is a useful template to plan your scene in detail.  And here is a discussion of how you can flesh out your outline into scenes.

* Accept your draft will have gaps and mistakes.  If your characters are dialoguing off on a tangent, it is fine to write “[and then Fred says something to change Jenny’s mind.  No idea what.]” and then move forward as though this has already happened.  Just because you can’t think of what he’ll say then and there doesn’t mean you have to abandon that plot development.


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