Okay, that really isn’t the title exactly. It’s Libbie Hawker’s Take Your Pants Off! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing.
The Three Dirty Birds are back, once more throwing themselves into the fray and trying to turn Kitty into a plotter. Today we’re talking about Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants! (which seems weirdly appropriate for people who all write erotic romance)
Ana: I feel like I’m in a sect and trying to get Kate to join.
Kate: One of those cults. Oh no, they’re brainwashing me!
Ana: I never thought I’d be in a plotting cult.
Zoe: I wish I’d had this book two years ago. :(
Kate: If any book is going to do it, it might just be this one. She strikes very close to the Seven Point Plot Outline that I’ve had some success with. (Mostly because it just points out the signpost moments in the story.) But the story she tells at the beginning–I’d love to be able to do that.
Zoe: Someone in another group I hang out in said that they’re a lot like the Save the Cat beats with different names.
Ana: I might have to look into that because I wasn’t happy with all the names.
Zoe: I’m not familiar with the Save the Cat beats, but in the discussion it was said that it calls the Ally the Love Interest, so I’m not sure the names are much better. :)
Kate: We could do a comparison for our next book.
Ana: The Ally isn’t the Love Interest in my plotting. But maybe that’s because I write Romance?
Kate: That’s what I think.
Zoe: No, I think it’s just that the “love interest” doesn’t have to be an actual love interest—it’s just a weirdly named beat.
Kate: Zoe, you’re going to have to explain that a bit more, because I’m not getting what you’re talking about.
Ana: Maybe that there isn’t a love interest in every book?
Zoe: I can only explain so much since I haven’t read Save the Cat, but apparently his ally role is called “love interest,” although it doesn’t have to be an actual “love interest.”
I think that Libbie’s beats pair nicely with James Scott Bell’s 14 signposts from Super Structure (also mentioned in Write Your Novel from the Middle). They hit different points, different aspects.
Kate: Another one I have to read. I got sidetracked by a book on character naming, which is way more interesting than I thought it would be.
Ana: There’s a book on character naming?
Kate: Sherrilyn Kenyon, through Writer’s Digest. She goes into naming conventions, then gives a bunch of names by nationality.
Zoe: Naming conventions would be useful if you’re writing non-Anglo-Saxon characters…or fantasy.
Ana: If I were writing non-anglo-saxon characters from a country whose naming conventions I’m not familiar with, I’d probably look at a few of those top 100 baby names list for a few years… I mean, from a few different years, not that I’d be looking for years.
Zoe: lol I thought you’d be looking for years at first. I’m not sure the baby naming sites would help—they just give first names. I had to name a Hispanic character in a book recently, and looked up those naming conventions specifically. (Then I had to look up how it was handled once the family was an American Hispanic family because the character is actually second generation.)
Kate: That’s how this book handles it. There’s a section on Japanese and Korean, Ana.
Ana: Ah yes, I rarely think about last names. I’m good with Japanese! Probably won’t write Koreans.
Kate: The Japanese section talks about last names too, and how a married couple can take either his or her last name. Interesting, weird little tidbits.
And, we’ve gotten off track again. (Not like there’s ever a day where we don’t :) )
Zoe: We have. So Libbie sets out in the beginning to tell you that her method will help you gain more confidence in your stories at the outline stage and write faster. Having now read it and done three outlines and gotten back to work on my WIP, my thoughts on that claim are “yes” and “maybe.” I can see myself taking less time in rewrites because I’ll have fewer story problems to fix, but I’m not sure that I’ll first-draft any faster.
Kate: I’m looking forward to trying it out on something from scratch. I have two in-progress stories that I’m trying to work on where I plan to give it a whirl, but I don’t think it’s the same thing.
Zoe: Ironically I started a new story from scratch last night…and haven’t outlined it yet. (But her book still helped, because I wouldn’t have been able to grasp what I have if I hadn’t just learned all that stuff about character flaw.)
Ana: I tried the outline thing on a short project I’m working on now, and it’s going well so far. I’ve yet to test it on something longer, but will probably do so soon. At least, with this outline I get my story split into chunks that I can make into story goals so I know how much to write each day and about how long it’ll take me to get to the end.
Zoe: Yes! I made a list of scenes in Evernote with little checkboxes next to them, then broke them into days, with more scenes on weekends than weekdays, and now I can see that I can finish this draft by the end of the month. (I love ticking the little boxes…though I’m contemplating switching to index cards for the next one.)
Ana: I want little boxes to tick!
Zoe: Get you some Evernote!
Kate: I love having a goal to write toward, which is why the 7 Point Structure worked pretty well for me. But it would be nice to have more smaller goals, so I’m not spending days writing toward one goal, but can accomplish one or two each day. (Push the button, get a pellet. Repeat.)
Ana: I’m almost sad this story I’m writing isn’t going to be submitted anywhere. I already have a synopsis!
I can certainly see the point of having an outline, or a serious plan, when you start writing. Libbie’s story about taking two years to write one book, then three weeks to write the outlined book, is one of the reasons I keep coming back to the “There must be some way to make it work with my brain!” idea.
Zoe: Kate, I have to ask now that you’re about halfway through the book: have you been an irritated bird yet?
Kate: Not once. How’s that for strange?
Zoe: (True story: I only wound up buying this book because I wanted to see if it was going to piss Kate off. Then I got hooked.)
Kate: And this is what I live with–writing buddies who do things just to see how far my tail will fuzz.
Zoe: I’d have told you not to buy it if it had been cranky-making. (After quoting all the cranky-making bits in chat.)
Ana: I would have been there for moral support. And popcorn.
Kate: That I can believe. But I have to say I’m glad you bought it and got me to buy it. I’m finding the specifics of the plot section a little harder to get into, but part of my method is that I write myself into the characters as I go. There’s a lot of stuff that comes out on the page that I have no idea where it came from, but then later something else comes out and the first one turns out to be foreshadowing, or necessary characterisation. And that all depends on the characters.
Zoe: Some people I’ve talked to had problems getting their heads around some of the stuff in this—I’ve seen discussions going on about the antagonist, the plot stuff, and the idea that the character has to overcome their flaw, which should make for interesting discussion in our chats as we get more into the specifics of the book.
Ana: To come back to what Kate said about the specifics, I think that even if you don’t follow the outline in the outlining part of the book, it can still help you if you got your character flaw and theme figured out before you start writing. (And possibly also how you want the book to end.)
Zoe: Yes. I think this book works for pantsers as well as plotters.
Kate: It does feel less “This is the word of our Lord” to me, which means I’m more likely to take a kick at what she says to try, and be less frustrated when and if it doesn’t work.
Zoe: I also see most of the book as more what you’d call “guidelines” than set-in-stone rules. I’ve been loosey-goosey with a lot of the plot stuff, changing headings, moving them around, grouping them together. But the book indicates you can do that as well.
Kate: One thing I figured out right away, and haven’t had time to go back and apply my new knowledge, is that you have to use this book either with notecards or a computer–you can’t just pull out a sheet of looseleaf and go to town. It’s definitely designed to be flexible, and for you to move stuff around, add and subtract, etc. Which is very much my way of doing things. (Although I do love my looseleaf)
Zoe: (I have a binder full of blank looseleaf. I bought it with the best intentions. Over a year ago.)
So, are we ready to dive into the Story Core in our next discussion?
(Ana: Nice, Zoe, ending the chapter with a question.)