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Fantasy Writers

Strategies Outlining Epic Fantasies/Giant Novels?

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  • #136612
    K.M. Small
    @morreafirebird

    So, I have a dilemma regarding my 200k epic fantasy novel that I’m hoping to get some thoughts on. But first, a little background:

    I wrote the second draft of my epic fantasy last year. Rewrite might be a better word, since it was radically different from the first draft. I outlined most of it, though the plan for the second half of the book was a bit blurry. I figured I’d clarify it when I got to that point. That didn’t end up going so well, and the entire climax was an absolute flop. So, I’m writing the third draft, which will include a major rewrite of the second half of the story.

    I’m an outliner. I’ve been working on an outline for quite a while now and have a solid grasp of the plots and subplots and villain plans. I also have a very clear vision of the final quarter of the story, aka the Third Act and the climax. HOWEVER… from the Midpoint to the Third Plot Point is one giant blur.

    I have a general idea of what needs to happen there, just no specific scene ideas. Everything is abstract, like “this thing in general needs to happen a some point, but I have no idea how and what it will look like.”

    Coming up with something is like pulling teeth and nothing I do come up with feels right.

    So, I thought maybe I should finish planning the earlier parts of the story (Act I and the first half of Act II), and start writing. And figure out the second half of Act II once I get there.

    Sound familiar? Yep, I did that last draft. And it was a terrible idea. BUT this time I do have a very clear image of the climax. So my brain thinks that perhaps that means waiting to outline from the Midpoint to the 3rd Plot Point will go along just fine this time.

    My question is: do you think this is a good idea?

    Basically, if I did wait to outline the second half of Act II, I would end up treating my 200k novel like four 50k novels in a series. Like a series, I would have a pretty solid idea of what the subsequent 50k novel would look like (except for #3), but it wouldn’t be completely outlined until I wrote the 50k novel before it. But my ideas for #3 might get moving better that way, while I would have a clear idea of #4 to guide me. In the end it would be one novel, but I would be writing it like multiple ones.

    Thoughts, anyone? Can you treat giant books like a series and break them up to make the writing and outlining easier? (while keeping the pacing for a novel, of course). Just let me know if something in there didn’t make sense and I need to clarify.

    Oh, and for context, I write a lot of short stories. So I’m used to dealing with smaller-sized ideas, even if any novel ideas I come up with inevitably stretch into giant epic fantasies that I can’t split in half because the Midpoint is…well, not a great ending point. 😛

    Tagging some people….


    @this-is-not-an-alien


    @obrian-of-the-surface-world


    @daeus-lamb


    @hope-ann


    @ashley-tegart


    @skylarynn


    @writergirl101

    @anyone

    (hello to anyone who has not met me. I’m your friendly neighborhood forum stalker who rarely posts 😉 )

    ~ Khylie
    "Beauty will save the world." - Dostoevsky

    #136614
    Daeus Lamb
    @daeus-lamb

    @morreafirebird Well, there’s no reason it couldn’t be done, but since it didn’t work for you last time, I feel like if at all possible outlining before hand will be worth it.

    If you’re unsure what goes between the mid point and the third plot point, it might be a sign your midpoint isn’t strong enough. The mid point is when your character becomes proactive, so the character should be carrying the plot forward. They need to have some big plan for there to be a disaster in the third plot point!

    It may also be a sign that your side plots aren’t robust enough.

    Just my two cents.

    😀
    👕👍
    👖 🐢🐢🐢🐢🐢

    #136620
    Skylarynn
    @skylarynn

    @morreafirebird

    I don’t think it’s a bad idea.  If bite-size pieces help you figure out the entirety, it may be helpful.

    "Remember, you go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you." - Rev. Peter R. Hale

    #136636
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

    @morreafirebird

    Hello! First of all, bravo on writing such a big book! *Applause* That’s a victory in and of itself. And you’re on the third draft already, that’s an even bigger victory!

    I’m in the middle of a fantasy trilogy, nearing the end of book two. Book 2 is ending up quite hefty, it’s probably going to pass the 100k mark.

    I had a lot of trouble outlining it. I dislike outlining but I don’t write well without a plan. I had a very similar situation to what you have now, a planned first half and midpoint, then a big space of nothing, and an ending.

    Here’s how I solved that problem:

    I did start drafting, mostly because I couldn’t stand to wait any longer and I had a second protagonist to get acquainted with.

    I plotted out both character arcs and figured out what I needed for them to get to the third act. That already gave me a pretty good guide.

    I jotted down a handful of scenes I might want to include and where they’d fit in more or less.

    And for the rest, I gave it plenty of time and kept drafting. The drafting process led me to a very interesting character dynamic. I got more and more ideas for scenes I wanted with them and wrote all of those down for the second act.

    By the time I wrote the midpoint, I had most of the second act planned. I figured out the in-between scenes as I drafted them. I can pants on a chapter level, just not on a book level 🙂

    So, in short, write a bad outline XD Or write a bad section to an outline. It’ll give you some traction and you can change it as you get more ideas and know your characters even better.

    I ended up changing all of the scenes in the second half, even though the general plot stayed much the same.

    Give yourself time and grace, focus on the character arcs more than the plot, and write down every idea you have.

    This is only what has worked for me in the past, and my novel was nowhere near as big. I wish you the best of success, I’m sure your book will be amazing! <3

    Without darkness, there is no light. If there was no nighttime, would the stars be as bright?

    #136644
    Ashley Tegart
    @ashley-tegart

    Hi, @morreafirebird

    Nice to meet you! 🙂

    I honestly don’t have any thoughts either way on dividing the story into four parts, on if it will work or not. 🤷‍♀️

    I don’t know if this is helpful, but I recently had issues with drafting after my midpoint as well. I had a clear climax scene in mind and my outline included general notes on how events progressed from midpoint to climax. But I stalled in the actual writing. I struggled to get scenes on paper that felt right.

    Basically, for my climax, my MC has to be at a particular location. In my original outline, I figured a second character had to be at the same location as well. I was running into trouble getting both characters at the location in a way that felt natural, and with the way I set everything up, I created a situation that made it implausible either character would succeed. There was no way my MC could survive and the scenes building up to the climax were clunky and disjointed as I tried to get both characters to the same location. I was worried the whole plot was a failure because I couldn’t make it work.

    The scene was so vivid in my head, but I just couldn’t make it work. Then I had the realization that both characters don’t need to be at the same location in the end.  Everything else works even if they are in different places. This changed my climax a bit, and I had to re-outline sections. But then everything fell into place; I had a more plausible climax scene and the events leading up to it flowed much better.

    All of this is a lengthy way of suggesting that perhaps there is a logistical issue with the climax (or another big plot point) that is interfering with the preceding scenes clicking? That was my issue, and changing a small detail fixed the outline problems.

    Anyway, that’s my advice that could have nothing to do with your outline question. 🤣 I hope this helps!

    #136657
    Brian Stansell
    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    @morreafirebird

    K.M. Small

    Hi Khylie,

    So glad to meet you…uh virtually…I mean. 😉

    I have been writing for 🤭mmmrmrmh years…okay a number greater than 20.  [Don’t judge.] 😲

    I’ve read and bought many books on writing, taken courses, follow writing blogs, attended webinars with famous and semi-famous authors and heard all of the techniques, and employed many.  But you know what I’ve found?

    There are no one-size-fits-all, or magic formulas.  There are proven techniques that successful authors consistently employ, but in the end, it is about finding your own way to tease and coax out of the shadows your own creative voice.

    You need to find what it is that awakens your God-given passion and compels you to formulate what you are learning into stories.  First, recognize that this is God’s unique gift to you.  He puts a particular spin on it that no one else can mimic.  Your gift has both your and God’s fingerprints on it.  You don’t have to be like anyone else but who God designed you to be.  Start by taking that load off of your shoulders and putting it back on God’s where it belongs.  A person designed to be a reflection of light must not stand in anyone’s shadow.  You are to reflect Your Creator and let Him infuse your gifts with His purpose.  He always gives with great intention, so be willing to surrender your five loaves and fishes into His design.  DO NOT let the journey scare you.  If God is for us, who can be against us, right? (Romans 8:31)

    So, you’ve said a couple of things in your post that I find interesting.

    1.      Oh, and for context, I write a lot of short stories. So I’m used to dealing with smaller-sized ideas

    2.      I’m an outliner.

    One of the things I have discovered is that writing a short story and writing a full-length novel are different skill-sets, even though they have some common properties.  The latter requires a greater degree of patience, time, and commitment.  It is the difference between a sprinter and a cross-country runner and involves steady pacing.  One of the perils of a short story writer trying to break out and become a novelist is that they will try to employ the same techniques as a short writer to becoming a long writer.  Pacing is the difference.  A short story mindset will soon lead you to impatience because you feel that the long story is not achieving the goals as fast as you are accustomed to.

    We live in a larger culture that has lost the ability to appreciate “waiting”. We want everything right here, right now, faster cars, planes internet, cooking, etc. ad infinitum…

    As a novelist, you MUST learn to slow those impulses down.  Patience is, after all, one of the Fruits of the Spirit. (Gal. 5:22)

    The outliner side of you could be interfering with your plans.  Here’s why:

    If your outline is very detailed, and not just High-Level blocks, you could be pouring all of the mystery of your story into the grand outline, but never letting the discovery process happen through the writing itself.

    One of the reasons, God does not tell us everything that will be in our lives, is that He wants us to experience the faith walk through each moment.  How does that apply here? 😉 Glad you asked…
    You are designed creatively to pursue the mystery.  If linear time were to cease, you would have no learning and no discoveries.  All mysteries would be fully revealed in a singular moment.  But that is a place of knowing only reserved for God Himself.  The BEST fiction follows the patterns of life, as frenetic and chaotic as they may seem, these patterns are relatable and your readers need to feel a realistic cadence to immerse themselves into your story.

    You have to create believability for your worlds of fancy, but all of these must be grounded upon known patterns that give your readers a subconscious reference point that they can stand upon when they try to identify empathetically with your cast of characters.

    An outline can create a too rigid structure for you to experience the mystery of a scene.  Always go into one with some questions and some answers that lead to other questions.  These can be around the characters, the circumstance, the perils, and the environment.  Your movement from one scene to the next must maintain the intrigue of discovery in the reader.  Think of it this way:

    1.      Your readers are the guests that you have invited to a dinner party where you are the host.

    2.      You have a large main meal that you’ve prepared and realize you have quite a bit of food that will spoil if the guests don’t eat it all.

    3.      You know your guests may show up early at 5:30 pm to visit and schmooze, but the main course is not scheduled to be served until 7:00 pm.  You have some that will show up right a mealtime because they have further to travel or a flight delay.

    So, under that scenario, what would you do?  Again, I’m glad you asked… 😁

    You serve hors d’oeuvres to the early guests.  Lite snacks at controlled intervals that will not overly dull their appetite for the main courses.

    This is what you have to do with novel writing.  Your chapters must build upon each other and provide small enough, bite-sized tastes to keep your readers hungry for the main course, the climax, and the denouement.

    Play the long game.  A short story has a quick pay-off.  You cannot go for a quick pay-off to the central conflict, but you must give tastes towards or tastes of things that thwart it.  Some appetizers may require a drink of water if they are not suited to the palate of your guests, but that is okay.  Let them rinse, swill, and come back to the dinner plate refreshed.

    So, if you know this method works for readers and diners, how about for you?  A writer is always the one who gets the first taste of the story in development.  Remember what it is that keeps you reading an “interesting” book.  The writer must go through the same path, but they get to blaze the untamed wilderness trek and cut through the jungle.

    To be that adventurer, you need the same thing.  The mystery of discovery.  If you over-plan it, you will lose interest in writing it.  You will have glutted yourself on the hors d’oeuvres and not appreciate the main course.  You will have missed the fellowship you imagined having with your readers’ first experiences of your work.

    If you must outline, do it as general as possible in large vague blocks.  Then build the walls between, brick by brick, and scene by scene.  The questions between each brick are the mortar and grout of the wall.  Those questions hold your story together.

    Does that help you with a method?  If you are not “feeling it”, perhaps God will give you the guidance to find a way that does lead you back into the intrigue.

    I have had some of my stories enter my head as a complete package, and then just set down to write them as fast as I possibly could capture everything before my memory clouded it away.  Then I reflected on and reshaped the clay and polished it.

    Another story I did a long outline for, and followed it generally, allowing myself to deviate from it when I “discovered” a better turn or solution in writing the story.

    Some stories are character-driven.  You imagine a character that intrigues you and then you mentally follow them around in your head chronicling what they tell you about themselves and what they’ve been through.

    Be careful in all your planning, however, be open to God changing your plans.  He often does that.

    Proverbs 16:3, 9 says:

    Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. … In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.

    So, you and I have a similar dilemma.  I wrote a 600K story not realizing there were so many words because I wrote it online.  But God showed me how to break it down into Books.  Did you know Tolkien faced the same thing?  LOTR was ONE BOOK to rule them ALLL!!!! (Sorry, got carried away with myself. 😜)

    His editor made him split it into the 3 books we have today.

    It is doable.

    Look for segments that solve a major plot point, but do not solve the overarching story dilemma.  Right there is where you might find a way to break it into a 1st part book.  Do the same with the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, if need be.  The final book will solve the overarching dilemma and conclude the series.

    Allow yourself to sit down and write with questions in mind.  See where the questions take you, even if they take you off of your planned outline.  Allow flexibility and give yourself a slower pace to think out the story without rushing to solve everything.  Ask God to give you the patience for the long game and not the desperate rush to complete it.  Don’t plant seeds and then dig them up the next day to see if they have sprouted.  Give them time (patience) and water (diligent writing input), and sunshine (allow others to see what progress you are making and keep you accountable).

    God Bless you in your journey, Khylie.

    Remember:

    Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. [James 1:17 KJV]

    Your Heavenly Father has INTENTION for the gift He planted in you.  Partner with Him in that discovery process.  Commit it to Him and you will be surprised at what He will do.

    You are more than welcome to stalk me.  I am always glad to have shadow friends. 😉

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 3 weeks ago by Brian Stansell. Reason: missing a word

    Brian Stansell (aka O'Brian of the Surface World)
    I was born in war.
    Fighting from my first breath.

    #136662
    Cathy
    @this-is-not-an-alien

    <p>

    My question is: do you think this is a good idea?

    </p><p>    Well I certainly hope that’s a good idea cos that’s what I’m doing too! <3 </p><p>     Actually I have a lot of A and B points and it’s the between that gets me. I’m a natural pantser who’s hit stride plantsing so improvising isn’t a problem with me as much as keeping focused. I actually did shortstory the very end of my WIP but mostly I’m too lazy to, so instead I just kinda free-write out how it’s gonna go and build up with the “episodes”; chapters. </p><p>    What I’ve found with the Muddy Middle I think, is that I don’t ground myself in my setting well enough or focus on the character arcs well enough, half of it is set-up. And writing–to me– tends to be it’s best in my WIP when I keep my readers on a “need-to-know” basis but keep hinting at the points they don’t know (which I better know, like backstories that forward plot) and the whole Chy-cough-what’s Gun technique is absolutely perfect for me I don’t want to foreshadow as much as prep for the intense parts to keep it credible. </p><p>   Aaaaand now I’m rambling, anyway, congrats on second draft lol this is my fourth or fifth depending on whether or not you count the ones that ran down the plot bunny’s hole. Actually I was literally just thinking about posting my story–like a series–in chapters so the feedback might keep me focused on the key points and my “final revision” stage. Maybe if you posted your story a chapter at a time (…haha this is me fishing for please give me your story!! You had an awesome premise in…what forum was it? But you were the one with the different people and interesting worldbuilding and the feuding sides and the girl with super powers and this is ridiculously vague cos that’s how good my memory is it simply won’t give me the names XD) </p><p>   Anyway basically idk if it’ll work but I’m doing the same thing lol let’s die together!!!</p>

    Don't let the voices in your head drive you insane;only some of them can drive; most are underage

    #136663
    K.M. Small
    @morreafirebird

    @daeus-lamb

    That’s good food for thought about my Midpoint. In some ways it resembles a bit more of a 3rd plot point, actually… I’ll think on that. Thanks for your thoughts!

    ~ Khylie
    "Beauty will save the world." - Dostoevsky

    #136664
    K.M. Small
    @morreafirebird

    @skylarynn thank you!

    ~ Khylie
    "Beauty will save the world." - Dostoevsky

    #136665
    K.M. Small
    @morreafirebird

    @rose-colored-fancy

    Thank you so much for your reply! It’s very encouraging to hear that something similar has worked for you. I’m a bit of perfectionist, so it’s difficult for me to let myself write bad outlines. They’re either full or terribly incomplete. I guess no matter what way I do it, this draft isn’t going to be perfect. *sigh* 😉

    ~ Khylie
    "Beauty will save the world." - Dostoevsky

    #136666
    K.M. Small
    @morreafirebird

    @ashley-tegart

    Thank you, that’s actually really helpful! I’m dealing with so many details for this story that something small but vital could definitely be off. This is making me begin to wonder if I’m dealing with a problem with my outline or a problem with one of my main plot points… I have some work to do. XD

    ~ Khylie
    "Beauty will save the world." - Dostoevsky

    #136667
    K.M. Small
    @morreafirebird

    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    Wow. Thank you so much for all those thoughts. I really appreciate them, especially from someone who has been writing for so long.

    I think you caught onto my tendency to plan and then to rush. 😉 The thing is, I’ve written about 12 different novels over about 7 years now. Most of the later ones I’ve outlined, though not super detailed. I usually end up with a draft that’s such a mess that I don’t know how to edit it into shape without rewriting it. So I re-outline and rewrite. And I think I assume my need to rewrite lies in my outlines not being strong enough. So I try to outline more in-depth.

    You mentioned that short stories and novels are different, and I’ve definitely learned that they are. But I don’t think that my (usually successful) method for writing a short story would work for novels. For short stories, I make a brief outline, write an incredibly messy draft, and then tweak from there, and it’s fairly easy to turn into a cohesive story. For novels, it’s difficult to ‘tweak’ because of how large they are. So I try to resort to more extensive outlining for novels to fix my habit (or process?) of messy writing and intensive editing. I guess I’m trying to create a really clean draft because editing messy drafts is daunting for me, lol.

    Conversely, I could be trying to write something a bit overly complicated for the type of writer I am. I adore reading epic fantasy and exploring politics of made-up worlds. But I most enjoy writing about characters’ inner journeys and transformations. Those are easy for me to keep track of and edit. It’s all the big, plot-ish stuff that my brain starts to get confused on. Part 3 of this story is all set character arc-wise, but my mind can’t generate events in line with the previous plot events that would allow those character arcs to take place.

    I’m not sure if all that made sense; I feel a bit like I’m fumbling around in the dark trying to figure out what my writing process is for this story and even whether it lines up with my strengths as a writer (though I know working outside your comfort zone and skill level is good too). I don’t know if you would have any insights on all of that from your experience, but I do really appreciate the time you took to say everything you did in your previous post!

    ~ Khylie
    "Beauty will save the world." - Dostoevsky

    #136668
    K.M. Small
    @morreafirebird

    @this-is-not-an-alien

    Yayyyyy I’m not alone. XD I don’t think I’m really a panster, since I’m not good a writing on the fly, but I do find out a ton about a scene by writing it. I finish writing it and I think, “oh, that’s how that’s supposed to go. Guess I need to rewrite it and then re-outline everything after it now that I know what it’s really about.” Which, erm, isn’t very effective when you’re trying to get a solid draft in…

    I only have three chapters written (mainly to get a feel for the tone and character voices), and I’m afraid to write more until I have a solid outline. XD Though if you want, I don’t mind sharing those chapters and could send them to you 😉  (lol, you did remember the gist of it. I think yours had an assassin-or-something guy with a traumatic backstory trying not to hurt people?)

    ~ Khylie
    "Beauty will save the world." - Dostoevsky

    #136686
    Cathy
    @this-is-not-an-alien

    You mentioned that short stories and novels are different, and I’ve definitely learned that they are. But I don’t think that my (usually successful) method for writing a short story would work for novels. For short stories, I make a brief outline, write an incredibly messy draft, and then tweak from there, and it’s fairly easy to turn into a cohesive story. For novels, it’s difficult to ‘tweak’ because of how large they are. So I try to resort to more extensive outlining for novels to fix my habit (or process?) of messy writing and intensive editing. I guess I’m trying to create a really clean draft because editing messy drafts is daunting for me, lol.

    LOL IKR! I remember my first shortstory fell out like magic and I was like “WHAT THE HECK IS THIS THIS IS NOT NOVEL WRITING I DIDN’T EVEN REWRITE IN THE MIDDLE OF SINKING INTO A PLOTHOLE ONCE!!!!!” Ahem, and what was about when I realized my “big picture” thinking was killing my long-term build up and detailed work (also I’d get so into the scene it wouldn’t actually forward the plot as much as sent me on a wild plot bunny chase…XD)

    I only have three chapters written (mainly to get a feel for the tone and character voices), and I’m afraid to write more until I have a solid outline. XD Though if you want, I don’t mind sharing those chapters and could send them to you

    Mmm ok, how do I put it gently? GIVE ME GIVE ME GIVE ME I WANNA READ IT PLEEEAAAASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! …Pretty please with a lump of sugar on top? <3

    (lol, you did remember the gist of it. I think yours had an assassin-or-something guy with a traumatic backstory trying not to hurt people?)

    Oh close! Not quite an assassin although…*checks through spoilers and plot twists and blinks* actually yeah…but not…but kinda…yeah I guess that sums it (until you learn the truth mwahahahahahahahahaha!).
    And wow congrats on your 12 novels (GIVE THEM TO ME WHAT ARE THEY WHERE DO I FIND THEM?!!!!!!)

    Don't let the voices in your head drive you insane;only some of them can drive; most are underage

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Learn What the Bible Says about Engaging Plots

Learn What the Bible Says about Engaging Plots

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