Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Course Correcting a Work In Progress--Outlining the Main Character

Coming out of NaNoWriMo 2015, we had over 50,000 words written on the first novel in the Orchard Pointe series. By mid-December, that number was just over 60K, and we were fairly deep into the second act of the story.

But as December went on, I found myself stalling out a bit. And so I did something that I very rarely do--I made an outline.

I've both written and talked about how I see myself as a signposter, which to me means that I mostly a pantser, but I'll jot down some plot points and a general idea of the overall story just to make sure I'm staying on course as I write. But for the most part, I like to let the characters reveal the story to me as I write.

One of the biggest challenges for me with this new series Jolene and I are working on is that it's written in first person. Outside of a short fiction piece here or there, I always write fiction from the third person perspective. Writing in first person is new for me, and that means that I have to learn to write differently, and to use different tools as I go.

With this current draft, I felt like I had paid so much attention to showing readers the world through the main character's eyes that I'd neglected to give them a good sense of the main character himself. It's not that we hadn't developed a clear picture of our main character, it was just that I hadn't translated it well to the draft so far.

So, I put together an outline for our main character and his arc, to remind myself of the picture we wanted to give the reader. The format I used was a slightly modified version of the one Libbie Hawker suggests in her her book "Take Off Your Pants," which I read recently and found really helpful. It helped me take the signposts Jolene and I had come up with and marry them with a clearer vision for the main character. Jolene and I then walked through the outline together and discussed each of the points, tweaking it and making sure we were on the same page and everything felt right.

With a solid outline in hand, I dove back into our book and everything clicked. A lot of what we already had works perfectly with this outline, and the places where we need to make changes are only making the character more fully realized.

This book project is forcing me to get out of my comfort zone and take a different approach, and it's making me a better writer. I'm loving it.