I’m currently going back and forth between editing Infernal Bonds and outlining Infernal Alliances (book 4). I’ve mentioned outlining a few times here, and I’m pretty sure I made it sound nice and easy. You just write some plot points, think of Freytag’s pyramid, eh voila, a beautiful outline!
So this is me being completely honest and admitting that while sometimes it works beautifully like that, other times I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall. This is one of those times.
The outline for me can be a very complicated beast, it involves colour, threads, and swearing.
I opened with the broad plot for this book. That’s a single sentence. In the case of Infernal Ties it’s “Quin gets kidnapped, Evie turns the city upside down to rescue him.”
As this is book 4 I can’t give you actual details, sorry. So I have that single sentence. From there I make notes on how to get from point A: Quin being kidnapped, to point B: the end. This is still the nice easy part, it’s all broad strokes like, “beats up Felix.” “Snarky confrontation with Azfin.” “Blunt talk with Serena.” It’s all very loose and sweeping.
I had no problems getting that down for Infernal Alliances. I knew the broad plot, I knew what had to happen between Point A and Point B, hell I even have a damn outline! Unfortunately, things changed in Witch Infernal and I learnt from that outline, so I need to tweak, rework, and expand, the Infernal Alliances outline.
This is where the threads, colour, and swearing come in. I write a couple of sentences on my main plot, the one that drives the book and goes in the blurb. Great, no problems, I have that in outline number 1. Then I figure out two or three subplots, that’s not so bad, I can manage that.
Now I’m at the point where I have to figure out the details for each subplot. They get written separately as though they were their own novella. They get a separate column on Trello. It’s basically a mini outline per subplot. Each of those opens with the driving force of said subplot, how did this come about? What are the desired goals from both sides? Then I go down and do those broad strokes I love so much.
At this point I have four different columns on Trello. My main plot, and three subplots. This is where the cursing and head-banging really come into their own. I now have to weave the threads together of those four different plots. They have to entwine, enable each other, expand on each other, and move everything, including character development, forward. All while remaining balances and worth their space on the page.
I use colour to help me figure this out. There are two colour schemes running side by side. One is for the subplots. Each subplot and the main plot have their own colour. E.g. Witches might be green, redcaps might be red, and so on. Then! I use other colours for the type of plot point and scene that it is. For example, I might have pink for the romance and affection, grey for action, purple for character development/contemplation, yellow for a lighter moment.
This means that each note, each plot point or beat or whatever you want to call them, will have two or three colours attached to it. One will be the plot/subplot it’s relating to, the other will be the type of scene it is. So it could be green and grey, an action scene on the witch subplot.
When I’ve wrangled those four threads together so the complete plot is cohesive, logical, and comes together, I start looking at those coloured labels. Are they balanced? Do I have a glut of green and grey notes in the middle there? What happened to the blue ones? There should be that ebb and flow that I mentioned before in my post about story structure. Those colours needs to be balanced, why hasn’t there been a yellow one in ten points? Is it because it’s been wrapped up or did I just forget about it?
The next step is tweaking those, getting them balanced so that the symphony works as it needs to. That fixes my pacing and helps me see the true ebb and flow of the piece, I view it as a piece of music in my mind’s eye. It should dance, build, and explode in that final crescendo.
Right now I’m still working on those damn threads, I’ve never tried weaving, but if putting this outline together is anything to go by, it’s bloody hard!