Preptober Week One - Dark Cabaret and Spooky Season
Happy spooky season, witchlings! We're one week into October, the month of Nanowrimo prep, pumpkin everything, wearing costumes whenever you damn well please, early voting, denouncing the man the US of A likes to celebrate for discovering land that already belonged to people, celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day and continuing to diversify and decolonize our bookshelves.
In my last post, I shared the daily Nano planning calendar that I am using for Nanowrimo prep this year. Are any of you following along, or are you pantsers like most of my local Nano crew? Both are valid, and anything that gets you putting your ideas down on the medium of your choice is great. Personally, the idea of pantsing gives me a cold chill down my spine--and not the good kind that means I might finally be meeting the vampire mate of my dreams.
So far, I have announced my project on nanowrimo.org, chosen an idea and set up a Pinterest board for saving story inspiration, and decided to use a combination of Save the Cat Writes a Novel and Romancing the Beat to help with story structure.
Today, I want to talk about one of my favorite things: OUTLINING TOOLS! I've said it before, outlining might be my favorite part of the entire writing process. There's no pressure to find the right words, balance dialogue with exposition, understand character voice, or worry about transitions. It's just about putting ideas raw on a page without worrying about making them pretty from the start. Personally, I like outlining by hand. I retain things better when I physically write them out, and it's a good excuse to use the stationary, stickers, colored pens, and all of my favorite journaling supplies.
I do all of my outlining in Happy Planners that I pick up on clearance once their outdated. If I can find a cover that gives me story vibes or has a nice quote, I'll use that one. Otherwise, I just decorate it with stickers. Once I have the basic story idea, I usually do a bit of character work before ever attempting the synopsis.
My Outlining Process, with Tools
Story Idea: this can be really basic at this point. My first story idea came from listening to a beloved song and imagining how it would change if it were the story of cursed paranormal lovers. My current story idea just came from me trying to make up the most ridiculous idea possible when explaining the only way to make me enjoy a "second chance romance" trope.
Quick Reference Character Guide: I use the "Monthly Layout" pages in the Happy Planner and fill in each square with one character so that I have all of my characters in one layout with a few key pieces of info while I'm writing. This includes name, fan cast / face claim, age, and one or two defining characteristics depending on what is important in the story.
Quick Reference Setting Sheet: I use another "Monthly Layout" page. I use the notes section in the margin to describe the basics of my setting (i.e. contemporary city or fantasy kingdom), and then I fill in one square with each of the major locations that I am planning to include. If your worldbuilding is smaller, this can definitely be done in a weekly spread instead, but I like having this be a tabbed / divider page.
Character Development Sheets: I use one "Weekly Spread" for each of my major characters. I prefer to do these in a Vertical Layout. (These have 3 stacked boxes per day.) I use the top left box for character physical description basics. The middle box I do a personality type, and the bottom left box is for strengths and weaknesses. I use the next column over to do astrological sign and traits, compatibility with friends, and love compatibility with the love interest. The third column on the left hand page is for the heroine/hero or villain archetype. I save the right hand page for character arcs and deeper dive into character motivations and bruises.
Synopsis: Now that I know who my characters are and where they're playing, I use a plain note page from the Happy Planner to write a few paragraph blurb / summary. This can be anywhere from a half page (new project) to a couple pages (book 3 of a series). I'll use it to develop my timeline and beat sheets, so it doesn't need to be too detailed.
Timeline: I am playing with this now. In my previous series, I used a note page and put washi tape down the center to make an actual timeline, and then I put in key events in chronological order. It worked well, but it was hard to gauge chapter length, character POV (I write multi, 1st person POV), and pacing that way. For Awakened in Stone, I've been using the "Weekly Spread" pages and filling in one scene per square. Then I outline all of the scenes that I want to go into the same chapter with colored marker. For the Nano WIP, I have not decided if I will do this method, or if I will attempt to put my scene ideas directly into a beat sheet.
Beat Sheet: Using a combination of Save the Cat Writes a Novel and Romancing the Beat (these are great resources linked above), I fill in one "Monthly Layout" with one beat per square, separating Act 1 / 2 / 3 into different rows (weeks).
Worldbuilding: This part will be so story dependent. So far, I have only written paranormal fantasy. So I create another section for the magic and powers of each class of characters and one section for the political structure / education / socioeconomics of each class of characters. If you're writing contemporary or historical, I don't know if I would include this section at all.
Research: This is a catch all section for me. Anything from climate of the world I'm writing, to socioeconomics of an analog world, to calculations about how big a dragon would need to be to meet the needs in my storyverse.
Inspiration: Another catch all section for quotes, music, pictures, themes, symbols. Pinterest mood boards are also great here.
Scene Cards: Once I have the outline setup (and time permitting) I like to write up a few detailed scene cards for the most important scenes in my outline. This is a step that I usually skip throughout the year, but it's super helpful during Nano. With a fleshed out scene card, it's easy(er) to get your word count in even on a day when you're pressed for time. The goal of this card is to have the POV already decided and to have enough detail that the scene is for all intents and purposes complete. All that's left is to make the right words and incorporate dialogue; no easy feat, but at least you've got a cheat sheet ready for those hard days.
Ooof, talk about an info dump! That's a lot, but if you follow me on Instagram, you'll see me going through most of these in small, daily doses. That's it for now, witchlings.