Plotting, Planning and Outlining

How To Put A Story Into Order

How To Find An Order For Your Story

How To Find An Order For Your Story

 

I started writing a new novel in December 2018 before putting it to one side and starting back on it this week (January 2019).
During that little break, I started to doubt what I’d already written.

The book is inspired by my walks through the woods with the dog, which is something I do every day. So, every day I walk through the woods and think, ‘oh, that’s a great idea for the story.’ Or, more recently, ‘yeah, that bit needs moving.’

It’s incredibly annoying when you realise something is in the wrong order while you’re writing (unless you’re a pure pantser and that’s how your brain works), because it means pausing your writing (unless you can bear to keep going knowing there’s such a big problem behind you) to go and fix it.

So, if you’re the type of person who outlines fully, how can you make sure you’re putting the story in the right order?
This is an issue someone in the Facebook group brought up when they joined.
(Join the group here.)

 

The timeline issue…

The problem with this is that the order of the story really depends on you and how you want to tell the story.
Some novels go back and forth through the timeline, others are linear.

So, before you start, have a think about how you want to tell the story.

If you want to tell a story over a long period of time but there’ll be plenty of gaps where, you know, boring life happens, then you might prefer to do flashback chapters rather than a linear story with big jumps or gaps.
(A good example of bouncing around in time done really well is V.E. Schwab’s Vicious.)

 

More tips for getting your story in order…

 

  • You will usually have at least a few scenes in your head for your story before you even sit down to outline. Make a list of all of those scenes onto cards or scraps of paper or post-its and put them into an order. By putting them onto mobile materials, such as cards, you can move them around and change the order as you like until you find something that feels right and clicks. It also means you can easily see where the gaps are and fill them in, or add in new parts where necessary.

 

  • Write the story out in note form and then go back to divide the notes into chapters or sections, depending on your story’s structure.

    Here’s an example taken from my own debut novel (obviously I won’t do the whole 80,000 words, but here’s the beginning so you can get an idea).Tabitha is working in the castle kitchens and is suspicious. More screams have been heard in the castle and someone’s gone missing. It’s her turn to help serve food to the king. She hates it, but it means she’ll be able to see the Royal Taster, Markkus, again. He fascinates her. Markkus meets Tabitha in the servant quarters and they talk. He’s fascinated by her too, although he knows he shouldn’t be. He ends up down the tavern with his old army buddies and finds out one of his neighbours is missing. Meanwhile, Tabitha decides that unlike the other castle staff, she won’t ignore the screams and she won’t forget those who have gone missing.
    Del is out on the Wastelands with her horse. She can smell a storm coming. Over the hill comes Andra’s dragonslayer company who decide to shelter from the rain in the same ruin that Del is hiding in. Del’s cover is blown, but it turns out that Del is Andra’s hero. Del is riding with Andra’s company when a dragon attacks. Del hangs back but the company are tired and don’t seem to have had the same training as Del. She’s been away too long. She ends up having to kill the dragon, breaking the law, revealing her identity to the rest of the company and forcing Andra to arrest her.

    Those are the beginnings of the two plots before they come together. We’re following Tabitha and Markkus at the castle and Del and Andra out on the Wastelands.
    I decided to break the novel into chapters and then to use alternate chapters to focus on the two stories until all of the characters come together.
    Which means that my outline then looked like this:

    1) Tabitha is working in the castle kitchens and is suspicious. More screams have been heard in the castle and someone’s gone missing. It’s her turn to help serve food to the king. She hates it, but it means she’ll be able to see the Royal Taster, Markkus, again. He fascinates her.2) Del is out on the Wastelands with her horse. She can smell a storm coming. Over the hill comes Andra’s dragonslayer company who decide to shelter from the rain in the same ruin that Del is hiding in. Del’s cover is blown, but it turns out that Del is Andra’s hero.

    3) Markkus meets Tabitha in the servant quarters and they talk. He’s fascinated by her too, although he knows he shouldn’t be. He ends up down the tavern with his old army buddies and finds out one of his neighbours is missing. Meanwhile, Tabitha decides that unlike the other castle staff, she won’t ignore the screams and she won’t forget those who have gone missing.

    4) Del is riding with Andra’s company when a dragon attacks. Del hangs back but the company are tired and don’t seem to have had the same training as Del. She’s been away too long. She ends up having to kill the dragon, breaking the law, revealing her identity to the rest of the company and forcing Andra to arrest her.

 

  • Get away from your laptop and your notebook regularly. Stepping away from your writing and allowing yourself to do other things, particularly physical things, frees up your mind and creativity to find different ideas and consider different orders and sequences. So, go for a walk, clean the house, have a shower, and let your mind wander.

 

  • Once you have your outline, you can double check the order of it by reading it through and checking the flow and rhythm. Is it a bit boring in places, do some parts need some more conflict or action? Is there too much action and you need a quiet moment? And, ultimately, does it make sense?

 

Don’t worry too much about getting the order exactly right.
When you come to editing your story, you can swap and change chapters around, move scenes and rejoin it all up again. That’s what editing is for.

Just make sure you have enough in your outline and order to get writing. Remember, a first draft you telling yourself the story, so allow yourself room to discover more about the order and the plot as you write.

 

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