Andrea Hannah on How to Fix Your Outline After You’ve Royally Screwed It All Up

Posted by on Feb 7, 2013 in Guest Post, Writing | 0 comments

Andrea Hannah on How to Fix Your Outline After You’ve Royally Screwed It All Up

Part Two:

How to Fix Your Outline After You’ve

Royally Screwed It All Up

Guest Post By: Andee Hannah

I’m so happy to be back on Pen and Muse today to continue all things plotting and planning. If you haven’t been introduced to my obsessive (borderline psychotic) love of outlining, check out my first post here.

Okay, so you’ve come up with a kick-ass idea for your next novel. You’ve followed the Holy Commandments of Outlining (Thou shall not pants, for one), and you’re happily drafting along. When all of a sudden…

PLOT HOLE OF EPIC PROPORTIONS. OUTLINE, ABORT! OUTLINE, ABORT!

Maybe that’s a little overdramatic. But it’s a plot hole, nonetheless, and it needs to be fixed.

You’d think that when you create an extensive outline you would catch plot holes and inconsistencies before you tangle yourself in a web of words you worked really, really hard on and now have to delete. And for the most part you do. But here’s the super secret, number one rule of making an outline:

You have to give it room to grow organically with your story.

Which seems counterintuitive, right? You’ve spent all this time plotting every scene in your would-be novel, and now I’m telling you that you have to let the story change as you write it?

You’re looking at me like this right about now:

But hear me out, okay?

When you make your outline, think of it as a travel guide on an awesome vacation. You follow the guide’s lead, let him take you to a bunch of major sites you knew you wanted to see when you planned this vacation. But while you’re on your way from one site to the next, you see a restaurant you want to stop in for a drink. Maybe a store. You weren’t planning on finding those little treasure troves, but your trip kind of led you there and so you went with it. And you and your vacation are better off for it.

So you’ve been writing along when you find one of those little treasure troves. And you keep on writing, checking off your plot points like a boss when all of a sudden you get to one (or five) that doesn’t make sense anymore because of your little pit stop. But don’t worry! I’m going to give you an example of how to fix something like this and weave your plot  back into the story you planned for.
Here are the original beats for my thriller, THE DESTRUCTION OF STARS AND LIES, for #9 (Midpoint) and #10 (Bad Guys Close In):

(Note: I’m purposely leaving things out in these beats so as not to give away the whole story. I’m also not including the specific scenes under each beat, for the same reason.)

  1. Wren finds the video left behind and discovers the secret society’s experiments in Rye, Pennsylvania. She’s horrified and fearful that the guards are coming for her now that she knows the truth. Wren runs back home to tell her sister, Natalie, to get out of the house.

-Scene A
-Scene B
-Scene C
-Scene D

  1. She races up to Natalie’s room, but she finds her bed empty. A note written in blood is left behind: “Deliver the documents to St. Agnus by midnight. Remember, we’re always watching.”

-Scene A
-Scene B

Those were the beats in my first, pre-game outline. But by the time I got there, things had shifted in my story and those two pieces didn’t work together anymore. Rather than dump the whole outline, I suggest adding in the new piece in a different font or color, and adding it right below your original. So after I figured out what needed to change, this is what beat #9 and #10 looked like:

  1. Wren finds the video left behind and discovers the secret society’s experiments in Rye, Pennsylvania. She’s horrified and fearful that the guards are coming for her now that she knows the truth. Wren runs back home to tell her sister, Natalie, to get out of the house.

-Scene A
-Scene B
-Scene C
-Scene D

  1. Wren watches the video and notices he mentioned the constellation Andromeda several times throughout his confession. She looks up the constellation and recognizes it from the book of clues Eli left behind. She starts to sneak out of the house to go show David when she sees Natalie’s door cracked open.
  1. She races up to Natalie’s room, but she finds her bed empty. A note written in blood is left behind: “Deliver the documents to St. Agnus by midnight. Remember, we’re always watching.”

-Scene A
-Scene B

  1. Natalie’s bed is empty. There’s a note written in blood in her bed, and it says, “ALL-CALL FOR WREN GOSSEMERE.” Wren’s stomach sinks when she realizes that Anna is the only one who knows about the forums, so the note must be from her. She checks the site and sees, “Bring the documents. Remember, we’re always watching.” Across the screen.

That looks confusing and like way too much information right now, I know. But don’t worry, we’re on our way to streamlining everything. So now you’ve figured out how you need to get from Point A to Point B again. That’s great, but because you shifted the beats, you need to do something with the scenes underneath them. You have two choices here:

  1. Delete all the scenes under a plot point and re-figure them to get you to the next point.
  1. Tweak each scene little by little until you get to your new plot point.

In the case of my example, I needed to delete the ideas for the scenes I had planned out and re-figure them to get from #9 to #10. But with other points, I could just tweak a little and still get to the next point just fine.

Once you’ve got your new plot points, and you’ve figured out how to get between them, you can delete the old ones so everything is shiny and sleek and not a brain melting mess of colors and fonts. Voila!

And there you have it: your outline is all fixed to match your story again and you’re on your way to hitting all your major destinations. I realize this method isn’t for everyone, but I will tell you, I like to keep my outline matched up with my story as it twists and pulls me in directions I never originally imagined for one important reason: revisions. My agent and I work through manuscript revisions by combing through my outlines and visualizing what works and what doesn’t in the big picture. The outline has been a God-send for me in that way.

So if you’re willing to embrace the slightly tedious life of a plotter, I can at least promise you that your chances of being more efficient are higher, and that your revision process will consist of minimal swears. Maybe.

What do you guys think? Have you had to change an outline mid-draft? Or did you just ditch the outline all together?

Andrea Hannah is a YA writer represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider. She writes stories about criminals, crazy people, and creatures that may or may not exist. When she’s not writing, Andrea teaches special education, runs, spends time with her family, and tries to figure out a way to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (still unsuccessful). Oh, and she tweets a bajillion times a day, mostly about inappropriate things. You can find her on Twitter @: http://twitter.com/andeehannah Drop her an email @: andeehannah@gmail.com And visit her website @: http://www.andreahannah.com/

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