I Need a…Gulp…Outline

I’ve been rereading my work-in-progress, trying to get back into the mindset of the story so I can work on it. Usually by the time I’ve written 37,000 words, my characters help develop the story. No, my characters never take over — they always do what I make them do. It’s more that I know who they are, what they want, and who’s going to stop them from getting what they want. Unfortunately, during the first part of my WIP, my hero mostly contended with the ever-changing world, and the people he met were simply passing through his life. So now I have to create a whole cast of characters.

I’m thinking of having a contest — let people suggest characters, and if I use it, they get an acknowledgement in the book along with a copy of the printed book when it’s published next year. Seems a bit of a cheat, but it could be fun.

But I digress. One of the characters I have to create is a group. Sounds odd, but groups have a culture, a dynamic of their own, a character that is different from the sum of the individual members. Groups also develop, just like characters do, and there are several distinct stages:

1. Coming together and finding the individual roles
2. Defining the task.
3. Feeling unrest — disenchantment with the group and each other
4. Cohesion — beginning to feel like a team
5. Interdependence — work as a team, believe in the subculture they have created.

In addition to creating a whole new cast of characters and developing them into a group, I need to figure out how to get my hero to give up the relative security he recently embraced and go back out into the dangerous world and dubious freedom.

When the novel is finished, much of this scaffolding will be invisible to the reader, but I need to be able to see at a glance how all the parts fit together so I can show what’s happening rather than telling it. It sounds to me like a need a . . . gulp . . . outline. I’ve never outlined a novel before. Should be interesting.

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17 Responses to “I Need a…Gulp…Outline”

  1. sherilynwinrose Says:

    Pat, here are some things to consider about ‘the group’.

    What is their stated purpose? Once you have the purpose, personalities will emerge. And your character’s reason for joining will become clear.

    Is there a hierarchy? What are the positions? Are there Power grabbers? Or is it benevolent? This will help guide the willingness or lack there of for your MC to settle in or become more distant.

    Would it be possible for a few of these ‘group’ members to bump into the MC in the first 37k?

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Sherilyn, good points. And I even have the answers to your questions! The hero did bump into a few of the group members in the first part, but their characters haven’t yet been developed. And the individual roles have been determined. Nurse, Leader, Power grabber (young turk), clown, victim, combatant, consiliator, opressor, seducer, taksmaster, scapegoat (all groups consciously or unconsciously pick a scapegoat to blame for whatever goes wrong).

      Knowing all this is what makes an outline imperative. Too much to keep in my head. I need to find scenarios to show each of the individual roles, how the group came together, how the hero became the scapegoat — and all without it being apparent to the reader what I’m doing.

      Or perhaps my supposed need for an outline is simply another way of procrastination. Seems like I’m getting very good at that!

  2. lynn doiron Says:

    This is interesting! I hadn’t thought of a group as a character before . . . of course it fits — as a city or landscape becomes its own sort of character. Or the sea in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I like this way of thinking, Pat. Helps me with focus on a “group” I’ve inadvertently created in my new WIP, a “group” which appears from time to time in the chapters as “those in the neighborhood” . . .

    Always informative and a pleasure to read your posts, Pat. Thanks.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Hi, Lynn! I’m delighted you stopped by. I’ve had groups in books before, but I never thought of them as characters, but I suppose all groups are even if the author doesn’t know that they are!

  3. joylene Says:

    I’ve done outlines for 5 of my 6 books, and I’ve done outlines for other writers. It’s not fun, per se, but effective. Here’s one way:

    Get 3×5 cards, make a list:

    – Title
    – ? scene of chapter ?
    – Protagonist/narrator/POV
    – Protagonist’s goal
    – conflict
    – disaster

    I wrote a blog on story structure or story breakdown of the 3-act movie or novel. Goes something like:

    first turning point
    first act climax

    second act turning point
    goal, conflicts, plants, disaster

    third act turning point
    disaster, action, confrontation and climax.

    if there’s a fourth act, then I stick that here.

    There are more than enough examples online, Pat. I guess it means finding the one you feel comfortable with.

    In your case, with a group outline, I think I’d start small and build from there. Start with #1 and so on. Then do a mind map of the entire outline. Or not.

  4. joylene Says:

    Sorry, meant to say that you could assign coloured 3×5 to each individual. Then do a chapter outline for each chapter. Lay them on a flat surface under headings Act one, Act two, Act three. And then list them under the acts. By the colours you’ll be able to see if there’s a formula at work or if there’s any blanks that need filling in.

    Hope that makes sense.

  5. Sheila Deeth Says:

    This is interesting. I’ve never really outlined, though I did create a scaffolding when I had a pile of related stories and wanted to put them together into a novel. I “synopsis”d, but outlining’s much harder.

    Personally I’d recommend talking to the “people” in the group till someone pulls you in. Then you can use their definitive version of what happened next.

  6. knightofswords Says:

    After seeing the “O” word, I need a large glass of Scotch.

    Are you thinking that your group won’t be cohesive if you start writing about it without the “O” word or the mission statement?


  7. Claire Collins Says:

    I’m not an outliner either, but I did have to create an intricate timeline for Seeds of September so I could follow the characters through 50 years. We do what we gotta do, Pat.

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