Listen, I tried. Even though I wrote my first book writing by the seat of my pants (a.k.a. pantsing, a.k.a. discovery writing), it did seem like plotting a book before I start writing would be an efficient way to go about the business. And who doesn’t want to save time, right? So I wrote an outline for a short novel and got to work writing it. Sadly, I got bored and quit before I finished the first chapter. I think my brain was going, “Why are we back here, we already wrote this part??”
Thus ended my short, uneventful career as a plotter.
But one doesn’t need to be a plotter to create an outline of one’s book. One can also make an outline of an already finished manuscript. I imagine this is useful for various reasons, such as if you’re planning to write sequels for a book series and you want to be able to reference events and character arcs quickly as you write the succeeding books. Or if you’re submitting the manuscript for publication or representation and the publisher or agent only wants to see an outline or summary. I did try writing an outline of my third book The Billionaire’s Game on request from a company that was looking for books that can be adapted to the screen. I started doing it, then never finished. I think my brain got bored with it too. It was a finished manuscript, after all.
(It wasn’t really a loss. If someone can’t be bothered to read the book, they’re probably going to make a hash of the adaptation.)
What I found, though, was that I quite enjoy outlining manuscripts I’m still writing. I don’t mean plotting one or two chapters in advance, I mean outlining what I’ve already written. I’ve only recent started doing this intentionally (instead of accidentally and when I feel like it) and it helps to find continuity errors and timeline errors. For instance, just this week I found out I made a continuity error in Unmasking Mr. Darcy — in chapter 42, character A didn’t know something about character B but it turns out I wrote that character A found out the thing about character B in chapter 35. Ugh. I also had to check that a character’s two-week internship only lasted two weeks. Thankfully, it turns out I didn’t make any errors there.
I don’t actually have the outline in a single file. What I have are short summaries of each scene and each chapter. It looks like this.
The image above is a screenshot of a chapter of the manuscript in the Scrivener app. Every book I write has a Scrivener masterfile. I will write my chapters in various places — paper notebooks, the Notes app, directly on the Wattpad website (this was how I wrote my first book) — but when I’m done, everything goes on the Scrivener file. The image above is how a chapter looks in the corkboard mode, as though each scene is an index card pinned on a corkboard. This way, I get an overview of what happens in each chapter. These are scenes, but I can view the chapters the same way. The image below is a screenshot of the chapters of Fake-Married to My Billionaire Boss in corkboard view:
As you can see, the chapters are color coded. The color on the left edge of each “index card” indicates the POV/s of the scenes in that chapter. The color tabs on the right edge of the cards are color codes of keywords I’ve assigned to that chapter. The video below is a screencapture of chapters in the threaded corkboard view, which connects chapters according to their assigned labels.
The image below is what the same chapters look in outline mode. I’m still working on the actual outline, but once I’ve written the synopsis of each chapter, they’ll show up here.
I think part of the reason I’m enjoying the process of outlining is because it’s so much fun and easy on Scrivener. Because I do write by the seat of my pants, my writing process tends to get really chaotic. Organizing everything into some semblance of order is necessary at some point, and also a rather relaxing exercise.
The software also lets me include research materials and visual pegs inside the masterfile. I love how it lets me have a folder for characters sketches which I can display with photos in corkboard mode:
While I mostly write on the iPad version of Scrivener these days, most of my editing work is done on the desktop app. The image below is what it looks like inside a scene. I like to have the synopsis or summary of that scene on the right panel while I write or edit. (In this example, the synopsis only has the time of the scene because I hadn’t gotten around to writing a proper synopsis.) Because I have the “binder” on the left panel, I can quickly navigate through scenes and chapters.
My novels are generally on the long side of romance books — the shortest one is 73,000 words and the longest, 125,000. I can just imagine how cumbersome it would be to work on it using, say, Microsoft Word or even Pages for Mac. I shudder to think of the endless scrolling I’d have to do. It’s so much easier for me to be able to jump from one chapter to another, and one scene to another with a single click. Having all my research materials in the same file and easily accessible is also a plus.
How do you organize your writing? Do you like to keep it simple with a single file or do you split chapters up into several files? What’s your super indispensable writing software?
If you’d like to try Scrivener, they let you try the full version for 30 days (that’s 30 days of use, not 30 days from the first day you try it). There’s a learning curve, and I recommend Michael La Ronn’s videos where he talks about Scrivener and its features.