Seperis (seperis) wrote,

on writing, the outline method

Well. I'd normally at this point say, I'm sorry for not answering comments--feedback and the fantastic glimpses into everyone's writing process. That never, ever stops being utterly intriguing to me. And I will, and I know this sounds loser-like, because I'm still LJing and stuff, but I'm in a transitional place where I'm venting out frustration with basically endless Lj entries. I've done four in my head that will never see the light of day, and this one is picking up from my last entry, methodology. Or basically, The Exception That Proves the Rule. Of everything I've written, four were painstakingly planned out, and I'm going to briefly go over what made them different for me. Short answer is plotline. Long answer is, I fell in love.

This will pretty much be the *least* interesting discussion ever, but if you've read Jus Ad Bellum (X-Men), In the Space of Seven Days, or Somewhere I Have Never Traveled, well, I'll cover those.

The one I tend to cite is Jus Ad Bellum, because I was rather Creative Writing 101 in how I went about it. I had a plot, I had subplots, I had multiple points of view, I had theme and tone, and by God, just to make it *interesting*, I did multiple timelines. Then I sat down and obeyed my beta and went about it very, very methodically, which let me tell you, I'm not methodical, so it worked discipline muscles that *were not there*. From the time I wrote the first precursor to it--a really strange short story that in retrospect would have done nicely as a Five Things the X-Men Never Were fic--to when I sat down with a working title and *started* it, it was about four to six months, or so I think. It took one summer to write, and I started posting when I'd finished the rough draft for Part V. At the time, I didn't know that I'd grow to completely loathe what my fandom had become and eventually walk away, so it was about nine months after that, give or take, that Part V came out, and a bit after that before the last Interlude to complete the cycle.

The premise was relatively direct and not particularly creative--with all the comparisons to Nazi Germany already in canon, I wanted to create a world where mutants had to fight a war they both lost then won, and then become what they'd fought against. I wanted to go as far as I could in creating a world where they could win a moral battle and lose the moral war. And I wanted it to be understandable as well as condemnable at the same time. I had no idea if I could pull that off. And if you've read me for a while, you know I want *everything*--action, adventure, romance, death camps, murder and destruction and above all these things, I wanted hope, something to pull it together and make it right. I don't believe in no-win scenarios, and if I was going to make a world like that, then I had to make sure that somewhere there would be a way for it to get back to what it should be.

For me, the hardest part was starting. I wasn't doing it the way I did things normally, which is to start sometime after the beginning, where things were happening. I had to start at the absolute beginning to set it up, and up until then, I'd never had to *set up* things. like that. That was torture. The first draft of the first section of Part I is probably the most revised thing I have ever written, because I could not pull off normal to save my life. Death, destruction, running, sex, those I can do. Making someone go buy tampons on a normal day, not so much. And the *anticipation* was getting to me. I knew exactly what would happen, what the second would be when it would happen, when she'd realize, and I can honestly say that that the first four sections of writing hurt and dragged in a way that no story before or since has, because I knew I had to get Marie out of her world, through revelation of where she was, step by step, even though *I already knew* what was going on and what had happened.

By the time I had Marie aware she was at the Mansion in an alternate universe and going to look for her own grave, I had gotten a decent outline out. My idea of an outline was sketchy and strange, and my beta literally sliced this story to pieces because of the detail work I needed to do to make it believable. I was working in the future of the X-Men in their normal world, and creating a new world entirely based off of a change of what happened on the Statue that night, which was it *working* and Rogue dying. I had to go on faith that the baseline universe, the normal one, would be accepted--and I didn't do anything odd there, so it wasn't' too hard--and then extrapolate the X-men post a literal world war, concentration camps, and mutant supremacy after. I also had to sit down and *write out what scenes I needed* to make the reveal of occur. Not just to Marie, all the changes, but to Logan later, when she tells him who she is. I am and was and will always be a shipper, so I also had to build a Logan/Rogue relationship somewhere in there, and bond Marie to her altered teammates. And in the middle of all of that, was that paranoia that being a shipper gives you, that it wouldn't work for anyone *but* shippers, and I wanted this story to be about *Marie*, about what the X-Men could be. My story self-esteem was very low in that.

By the time I finished Part I, I'd outlined in detail up through Part IV and had most of Part V done. In some ways, this made it easy--I knew a scene with a meeting with Hank with foreshadowing went *here* but before the first sex scene, *there*, and Rogue had to kill someone over *here*, and *here* is when Scott found out who she was, and *here* is where Marie begins to sympathize with her teammates and *there* are the executions she witnesses, *here* is where she sees what she's become, and finally, her confrontation with St. John that sets the ending in motion. Between the milestones, I had more flexibility, which is where I could write in fun things, like a trip to the mall, which doubled as ways for the character to discover more about this world, and I got to dress her up in leather and oh man, the *fights* I choreographed, pure sheer joy. That was happiness. But every scene was set in the outline when I was done, in detail--an overview of what happened, if anything significant occurred, such as Marie hearing about Logan's relationship with Jubilee, or finding out about the pictures, and I'd go back to read the outline sections and see if I missed anything. One particular servant in the Mansion was carefully watched, though she appeared in maybe three or four scenes altogether, but she was how I broke up Marie's transition in my own head. It's one of the last times I wrote in draft form, going over to add in details after the fact, sometimes even changing or removing something entirely, and I have never been successful doing that since.

By the end of Part III, all sections were mapped out into the outline, and I'd had my big turning point at the end of Part IV slid in and ready to be written, which was the moment Rogue visibly converted into Marie Danvers, who began to believe in the darkness of this world. Throughout the story, I tried to add in cues for the change--how at first she notices the servant class of humans, the number tattoos, her railing against the injustice of it all--but through Part IV especially, I consciously worked to get her away from the reality of the world and into the companionship of her altered teammates only--her relationship with Logan, her friendship with Jean, her place as a member of the team and doing things she'd never do on Scott's command, at first as her cover, and then because she wanted to protect them. The transition also between being the youngest X-Man in her world, still feeling like she was considered a child, and the new world, being an equal and recognized on her own terms. Through most of Part IV and all of Part V, I converted her steadily toward the person I needed her to become for her explosion at John at the end of Part V. John, unfortunately, got the worst of me, when I began to editorialize *and* fell in love with my pretty patterns of words. He speechified. My God, did he speechfiy. And he got the point across in the way one knocks someone out with a club. Not my most subtle moment. Then again, Jus was all about grand gestures and dramatic moments and huge life-altering decisions, world-altering changes, and yet, I boiled it down to a really simple single moment for Rogue--to accept what she'd become, accept how she'd become in essence a racist and a murderer and a defacto oppressor of humankind, had become what Erik Lensherr wanted mutantkind to be, and then she could make a conscious decision not to be that, to be something more and something better. Because she could acknowledge that she wanted to do things that weren't right, hurt for those who had been hurt, but still know the difference between right and wrong, and decide to do what was *right*. The outline, at this point Jenn's Holy Book of Useful Facts, made it easy to go back and echo everything she'd said and done for five parts to make that decision.

And that's when the story went silent, because I had *no idea* how to do the ending.

Well, it was written. *Multiple versions*. And that's where the outline became a problem--as I'd progressed, to reward myself for writing things that actually bored me even if they did advance the plot, or *not* write the Danger Room Blowjob, oh God, did that make me bitter, I entertained myself by writing *endings*. Because I'd been so careful and kept the long term story goals in mind, most of them were perfectly workable. They *fit*. I could only dismiss a few for being completely wrong--by this time, this story was about Rogue's journey and the X-Men's journey, so not only did I have to get her on the Statue, I had to make her essentially kill herself, and unfortunately, I'd figured that out early on and so, I had many endings, some very similar, and no way to choose between them. At the end, I kicked them all out and wrote the ending from Scott's POV, then washed my hands of it until I posted the alternate ending, the one that *was* the most likely candidate for an ending, and the epilogue.

It was--an interesting expereince. I've never successfully pulled that off again--being able to long-term plot, and being about to outline like that. It made a amazingly thick story, and it's--I look at it, and I'm proud of it in a way that's really all personal, like running a marathon. I wrote a *novel*, my first true novel, my first real novel, and it was themed and toned and there were multiple characters, and I created a *world*, and God, even when I read it now and see the flaws, it makes me just smile. And despite the flaws, it stands up to almsot four years later as still solid, with relatively stable plotlines, and I just still smile when I see it. And pisses me off too. I'm a better writer now, but I've never been that audacious, that fearless, that locked in a single vision and saw it through to the end. I haven't been that disciplined, or so sure of my own vision that I would just *go* like that. I think the only ones comparable in the sheer focus I achieved was A Handful of Dust and Somewhere I Have Never Traveled, but they both have other problems, even if the writing is much tighter in both, not the least of which is that Dust was my way of breaking my own faith in a person being able to be better by will alone.

Okay, I thought I'd be able to do all three, but my fingers just gave out and I've been wroking on this an hour. If anyone's interested, I could explain another story at some point; eventually I'll get to Somewhere, because that one kind of fascinates me as a kind of Jenn's Answer to Nanowrimo--or, I Can So Write a Novel in a Month, Watch Me!
Tags: meta: my fic, meta: writing
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