Thursday, October 31, 2013


Hey, everybody! It's Holly again. Holly stands on tiptoe and waves to the vast audience. Remember me? First, Happy Halloween! Don't forget to hoard your kids' candy tonight (I don't have kids, so I'll just turn off all the lights in my house and pretend I don't hear the doorbell. The Jolly Rancher Chews are MINE!), because you just may need it in the coming weeks.

I love Halloween. The decorations, the candy, the pumpkin-flavored everything. Yep. This is my kind of party. But in a few hours . . . the world of witches and warlocks and goblins and ghouls becomes . . . NANO! Lightning flashes in the windows and cackling catches on the wind. Don't worry, don't worry. It's all going to be okay. Don't believe me? That's okay. Let me help you convince yourself.

Outline Time

Go on, open a word processor, grab a notepad, or steal some note cards from a nearby backpack. It's time to get down to business. Of course, as you know, we can't actually write anything for a few hours. But we can get our thoughts in order. There are a bunch of ways to outline, but I'll just tell you the two ways that worked for me.

Timeline Note Cards

With my summer manuscript, I used 3x5 note cards. I wrote titles of scenes on them and put them in order. I also drew maps of locations like a house, a school, or even a bedroom. I made lists of characters that went together. I wrote "Flashback" on a few and filled them in with background info. On some of the cards, I used specific colors of ink, so that I knew what was going on. The stack of cards was my lifeline (and I almost lost it a few times). But if chapters spilled onto the page in the wrong order, that was okay with me. I just made sure to move the cards around so I didn't forget the important stuff. Scenes got lumped together, and scenes got stretched out. But overall, the note cards stayed the same. You may like this style of outlining if you like to have something physical to connect you to your manuscript. You can hold the scenes in your hands, stare at them, scribble on them, whatever you want. If that sounds appealing, you should try the note card outlining method.

photo credit here

List of Thoughts

This is the kind of outline I used for my NaNo manuscript. I pulled up my word processor, and I made a bulleted list. But, well, things kind of got out of hand. At first, the list was practical. Something like,
  • Lisa lives in Florida.
  • Lisa's mom is sick.
  • Lisa's dad is in jail.
  • Lisa gets a letter from her dad talking about how he's getting out in a few months.
Practical, right? By the end of my outline, things became more like this:
  • Lisa dives into the ocean, mere moments before the gunfire erupts behind her. She knows that Derrick will stop at nothing to capture her, so she swims with all her might. But the waves are crashing and the salt stings her eyes. Her arms flail, and soon, she's choking water into her lungs and sinking into the ocean. Suddenly, she feels fingers wrapping around her wrists! She tries to kick away, but the person holding her is much too strong. She can't open her eyes to that salt again, but she knows that she has to escape somehow. Before she has a chance to worry about drowning (or maybe she is worried about drowning), the fingers turn into arms around the trunk of her body, lifting her to the surface of the water. She coughs water out of her lungs and breathes in the sea air. Too exhausted to fight, she leans back against her rescuer and feels her hair get caught on his stubbly chin like velcro.
Yes, that was one bullet point. And that is how my outline became 6,000 words. Yeah. Just like that. Anyway, it worked for me. That bullet point, though it teeters on the edge of writing, will bring me back into the story and remind me of where I want things to go. You may like this outlining strategy if you are really worried about forgetting stuff (that's why I liked it). This strategy also helps if you desperately want to get started with your manuscript, but the clock has not quite struck midnight yet. The degree of description will help satiate your craving to write ahead of time.

photo credit here

Hopefully these two outlining strategies will help you as you fret during the remaining hours of October. But really, don't fret, just write (after midnight, of course). It will all work out. And if you ever feel stuck, just keep writing anyway. But now's not the time to talk about getting stuck. I'm sure all of that will come later.

Happy NaNo! (Oh, and Happy Halloween!)

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