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(Note: This was written between writing Volumes 1 and 2.)
The way I write requires a lot of structure. That structure comes from a well planned outline. So how do I approach making it?
Outlining is like solving a sudoku puzzle.
To solve the puzzle, you first take a general look to get a feel for the overall layout. Then you consider your options horizontally, vertically, and by sections. Many times just looking at it one way isn't enough, and a combination of looking at it from two or three different perspectives is what's needed to come to the solution. At other times even that will only point you in a general direction, and a wild guess is needed to move further along, and hopefully it will work out in the end.
With a story as complex as the one I have in my head, and with my approach to writing, it needs to be outlined. First comes creating the characters and understanding who they are, and then understanding what the purpose of the story is. It can work the other way around too. Coming up with a good story first, and then figuring who and what the main character or characters need to be to tell the story.
These two elements are the foundation to any story.
For The Magic Arts, I already had been playing a scribe for a long time, I already had my character. To figure out the story, I looked at uothief.com to see what it already offered. A project about the stealing (well... two starring the same person), and one about pvp (No Pots, No Specials). I had been playing a scribe for a long time so I simply thought, "What's life like for the crafters?" (Note: Both The Magic Arts and No Pots have since been moved to the Other Projects page, as the main page is for Theif projects only. 07-27-09)
Next is creating the general flow of the story. I knew one major event that I wanted to happen, and then I jotted down the steps to get there, and some of the results of that event. I soon realized the story would more effectively work by breaking it down by volumes rather than have it as one continuous story.
Then came breaking down Volume 1 into the individual steps that needed to be taken to reach the first volume's goal. Fleshing out the detail of each chapter came afterwards. I tried to ckeep at least one chapter ahead when it came to creating a solid plan on the chapter level so I could make sure to build up to any necessary points that I needed to make. These chapter outlines weren't too detailed to allow some flexibility should any new developments arise.
Detailing ahead doesn't just work just on a chapter level, as I find myself breaking down future volumes as I'm working on Volume 2. As I get through more of the story, this will happen much more often for individual chapters and entire volumes. Each piece makes it easier to see the finished puzzle.
Working on a Chapter, Volume, Story outline isn't enough though. People and ideas can be easily lost. Too many characters are moving around, and many are doing things off screen. So I outline by character and ideas as well.
I look at each character and try to follow their individual path across each volume whether or not they have large roles. Some will constantly take center stage and some will weave in and out, while others are just catalysts for the main characters. This type of outline works for groups of people as well, who are tied together by location or ideals. By doing this, I can make sure that characters will change and grow, or to just simply make sure that characters are not forgotten.
This doesn't stop at people. Or even living things. I have an outline for ideas and physical places, such as the physical shop, The Magic Arts & Crafts.
With structure, I'm talking about semi-story elements such as plays on words, words with multiple meanings (Through literal definitions, metaphors, and as inside jokes.), parallels, and symmetry. Other structure elements that always need looking at are keeping track of specific repetitive elements that I want each volume to have, and deciding on the point of views for the chapters within a volume. The biggest semi-story element has to be the calendar which is used to keep track of how much time has passed between chapters as well as working with weather and seasons.
Some structure elements have nothing to do with the story at all. Deciding to keep the chapters between one thousand and two thousand words, as well as the number of chapters per volume, definitely has an impact on what is written.
This story takes place in a larger universe than just the world of The Magic Arts & Crafts. The story is written around some of the events that occur in Undeniably Sexy: A Thief's Tale, and a small smattering of the other projects on this site. So those also need to be addressed. We have a master timeline to keep track of what is happening in all the projects.
(Note: With No Pots, No Specials and The Memoirs of Ninja Bob post-poned indefinitely, our timeline is now pretty much obsolete. The website has grown from its original beginnings, and has become large enough for the main focus to truely reflect the thief of uothief.com. However, I still do like the challenge of keep my story consistent with Undeniably Sexy, and attempting to do so provides an easy source to reference events that are not taking place in West Luna, allowing the story to truely feel like it's part of a larger world. 07-27-09)
With such a complex method for outlining everything, do I still have to make wild guesses? Absolutely.
Each chapter is being published one at a time on a regular schedule, much like a TV show divided by episodes and seasons or a comic book divided by issues and story-arcs. And I have started putting up chapters while my outline is not fully complete. There are plenty of places that are filled with extremely vague ideas, and I look ahead and know where potential problems will arise.
Since I haven't fully outlined the entire story at this point, working at it from all these different angles helps solve the puzzle quicker than just taking one approach. Yet it isn't always enough. There are a lot of blank holes that in which I have no set solution or event, so I'm relying on time, and the progression of the story, to help me discover the answers.
Outlining vs Writing
It's important for me to recognize that there is a line between outlining and writing.
There is a point when there can be too much outlining. When it comes to outlining a chapter, I'll write down major points I need to hit, the general rhythm that needs to take place, maybe a certain emotion I want the chapter to have and some specific lines, but I can't go much further than that.
When it comes to really writing, it works best for me if I take a look at the basic outline, which can be just handful of words and phrases and just let the chapter flow so conversations get a natural flow. I've had to do a few re-writes due to losing saved files, and they never came out with the same feel as the original. Outlining can be very mechanical, and but end result needs to feel natural, and that's where the writing takes over.
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