Dianne Salerni author Dianne Salerni author Dianne Salerni books Dianne Salerni blog Dianne Salerni Appearances Dianne Salerni contact Dianne Salerni teachers
Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | 20/20 Hindsight

20/20 Hindsight

Now that I have finished the first draft of my WIP, I’m ready to start outlining it.

I’ve never understood how writers outline their stories before writing them. Sure, I could make up an outline before writing the draft, but my characters won’t feel any obligation to follow my plan.  And character sheets – I’ve heard about them, too. But I don’t know my characters very well before I start the draft, and they don’t usually turn out to be the people I think they will be.
It’s only now that GRUNSDAY is finished, for example, that I understand how Jax has to change over the course of the story, and the kind of person Evangeline needs to be from the start, and why Riley did the things he did.  Now that I’ve completed a draft, I’m ready to sit down and write character sheets – arcs for their personal stories.  In the case of Jax, the event which slaps him upside the head and forces him to change his behavior is one that was never in any of my plans for the story.  In fact, it almost didn’t happen.  I was just finishing the draft of the relevant chapter when I saw the opportunity and went back and inserted it on a whim. I don’t know if I should do this or not, I remember thinking.  But going forward, I immediately recognized the difference — how Jax had to man up because of that event.
It was 20/20 hindsight.
I’ll also outline all the chapters with color codes for the plotlines. (Katie Mills, you gave me that idea!) This will help me with pacing, because I know this story loses its way in the middle, especially now that I’ve seen the end.
World building? I’ve got to take care of that, too.  Now that I know what must happen, I can better define the rules of this reality. I made it too easy for my characters in the first draft. They are going to lose a few conveniences in draft #2, because if Grunsday is just like any other day, then what’s the point of writing a book about it?
I’ve got a short story project I need to work on while I mull things over and outline the current and future drafts of GRUNSDAY, but I hope to start revising before the end of the summer.
What kinds of things do you understand better after you’ve written the first draft?

22 Responses to 20/20 Hindsight

  1. great psychonalytic of the writing process…i do not think john collins quite understood the writing mind as you say about outlining…what do i understand better after writing a first draft…i understand less and that opens up more possibilties…it’s like drinking yourself sober

  2. sorry ’bout the spelling — friends were over last night and i had three ponies of rolling rock and a plastic cup of sangria — i’m a poor drinker and poor speller

  3. I’m an outliner – I definitely cannot write a story until I have an idea of how the scenes are going to come together, what kinds of revelations my characters will be having – all of that. And then I write what I call my predraft, where I take my outline and do a very detailed scene-by-scene outline, where I add to my original ideas, and take away some ideas, and write tons of dialogue and descriptions and *almost* have a first draft. Kind of like a sketch – a detailed pencil sketch with notes for colors, and textures, and whatnot. THEN, I take my ginormous sketch of a book and write the first draft. Yes, so much changes once it all comes together, and character revelations, and the way I’ll be writing them, will impact so much of the story – things I can’t even fathom happening with just the predraft.

    But without an outline, going through each scene before I even attempt writing it, there’s no way I’d be able to write it. I think I might just be a huge control freak 😀

    Your way of doing things is really interesting. And boggles my mind a little!!

  4. I was always told I was silly for writing first then outlining! I’m glad someone understands. I need to get a feel for my characters before I really know what aspects of my intended plot to highlight. It would feel so empty to outline without ever written a word in my characters voice.

  5. Thanks, Dianne. I needed this today. …having trouble getting started on a new work because I’m wanting to plot/get to know characters…all that jazz first. Instead, I think I’ll just write the darn first draft.

  6. Angela Brown says:

    I tend to do a skeletal outline before I write, a sort of “Here is point A and some notes on getting to point B” But I don’t do too many details because I often detour along the way to point B. It is often in the detours that I find the unexpected adversity a character must face and the adventure becomes adventurous for me as well.

    Congrats on finishing your first draft and I look forward to reading more about GRUNSDAY.

  7. This is sort of what I do too. I have an idea of who the characters are, but where they go changes as I write the first draft. I will have an idea of what the story is and where I think it will go, but I don’t know for sure until it’s written and sometimes the characters change too. I like the color coded plot line idea. I should try that. Good luck!

  8. Linda G. says:

    I know everything better after the first draft, since I usually know nothing going in. I’m as surprised by the story as anybody–my subconscious (the real writer of my books) likes to keep things close to the vest.

  9. mshatch says:

    I think whatever works and gets the story written is the way to go. Now that I outlined once and found it helpful I’m trying it again. Plus my character/world interview questions that I got from somewhere really help me know and deepen my characters and thus the story.

    Can’t wait to read draft #2 of GRUNSDAY 🙂

  10. I like to do a loose sort of outline to get an idea of where I want to start and how I want to get to the planned destination, but the route ends up changing dramatically from the first draft to the final one. As for what I learn after writing that first draft, I discover unexpected symbolism within the story.

  11. I’m with you about outlining. I don’t know who anyone is, what the plot is about, what the crux of the story is, how anyone grows, and so on until I’m way into the book. Then I can stand back at my mess of a draft and shape it.

  12. LTM says:

    Oh-migod. Is it possible our process is identical? I swear, this is exactly what I do–down to the, “this might not work, but…” scene insertions!

    But I’ve never though of outlining AFTER the story! Thanks for the lightbulb, Dianne! 😀 The story sounds great, btw~ <3

  13. I never outline either (prior to that first draft) but with the third book in my Persey Campbell series I went through all the characters and outlined what they needed to do, issues to be addressed, motivations. It just got too complicated with three books and I didn’t want to spend the time to go back and reidentify missing pieces. Now, I just need to sit down and write it…if only I wasn’t cheating on it by having a sordid little love affair with something else 😉

  14. DL Hammons says:

    I heard a term the other day that I’m totally stealing. Organic outline. My outline is never rigid and adapts as I write, but I do start out with a chapter by chapter breakdown of what will happen in each chapter (both action-wise and emotionally). 🙂

  15. Tonja says:

    I think there are too many things to list here. The more I write, the less I have to rewrite – I’m sure that’s true for everyone. Good luck on the outlining and revisions.

  16. E. Arroyo says:

    I love writing first drafts. It’s the fun part. I usually write the first act before I write a chapter to chapter outline. But that outline is written over days of brainstorming. I didn’t write an outline for my first MS and lost grasp of what it was about. Writing the chapter to chapter allows me to be in control. It works for me. =) I love reading about how others do it. I get great ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Joanne Fritz says:

    Dianne, I’m so glad to hear you say this! I thought it was just me. I can not for the life of me outline a novel before I write it. The characters or the muse or whatever have to take me where they want to go. But what a brilliant idea to do it after the first draft. I’ve done character sheets after the first or second draft but never an outline.

  18. I don’t outline either 🙂 My first drafts are total explorations. Which means the edits are MAJOR!

  19. Julie Dao says:

    I ALWAYS have to have an outline. I think of it as a guide map, because otherwise I have no clue where I want to go. I find that if I don’t have one, I write a lot more gibberish and unnecessary stuff that ends up getting cut during revisions. To each her own I guess 😀

  20. Lydia Kang says:

    Even though I outline a lot, it’s amazing how much stuff I realize afterwards! Stuff about the character arcs and world building too.

  21. OMG, I heart this so hard!!!! I do plot points first, then write a bunch of gibberish, (HA) then go back in and do all the rest!!!

  22. Lenny Lee* says:

    hi miss dianne! i didnt ever use a outline. im thinking i could get lost using one cause when im writing my stuff goes every which way. for sure i always gotta do lots of changes. thanks for reading my interview at miss natalies blog and doing a nice comment. 🙂
    …hugs from lenny