Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mary Robinette Kowal and The Mysteries of Outlining


This post is a continuation of Orson Scott Card & The MICE Quotient: How To Structure Your Story where I explain what Orson Scott Card's MICE Quotient is and go through the various structures: Milieu, Idea, Character and Event.

My goal today is to show how MICE can be used when outlining but to get there we first need to be initiated into the mysteries.

How To Create An Outline


This material is based on Mary Robinette Kowal's workshop The Mysteries of Outlining I attended at SiWC this last weekend. Mary has a great website (love the black cat!) and an incredible selection of articles on how to read aloud.

I was going to use a different example from the one Mary used in class--Sleeping Beauty rather than Rapunzel--but she knows what she's talking about and I'm still learning, so I hope Mary won't mind if I use her example.

Please keep in mind I scribbled this in my notebook, there was no handout, so any mistakes are mine, not Mary's.

1) Write down all the events of the story

This is easier for us since we're working from a story, Rapunzel, that's already written. When you're outlining a story being created you'll write down all the events you know take place.

Mary stressed that outlines are fluid and meant to help you as a writer, not to lock you in, so just because something is in your outline doesn't mean you're committed. Mary compared an outline to a roadmap. If you have a roadmap you can see where you're going; it helps you stay on track and to reach your destination without unnecessary detours.

But perhaps you want to detour.

When you're on a roadtrip to Los Angeles from Seattle you can decide to take a detour and see the grand canyon, but it'll cost you. If you think the detour is worth it, then go for it! In fact, you may decide that instead of going to LA you'd much rather go to Vegas. You can do that too, but that's a very different road trip and there will be a cost. Your outline helps you see what that cost will be and evaluate whether it's worth it to you.

To sum up, an outline is a tool to help you reach your goal of finishing your book. It helps you keep track of both where you are and where you want to go. It can also help to reveal plot holes and help you get around them.

List of actions:
1. Parents steal a Rapunzel plant
2. Baby born
3. Witch takes baby
4. Grows hair
5. Prince out hunting
6. Prince climbs tower
7. Witch discovers prince
8. Loss
9. Blindness
10. True love

2) Look for plot holes and fill them in

Look at what you have so far and figure out where the plot holes are, then fill them in.

We need to insert "locked in tower" between (3) and (4) and between (5) and (6) should say something about Rapunzel seeing the prince and trying to attract his attention.

3) Look for duplication

Are any scenes serving the same function? Can you roll them into one?

For instance, we might show Rapunzel is lonely by writing a scene where the girl watches a nest of birds and tearfully waves goodbye to the chicks as they fly away. We could use this scene to show how lonely Rapunzel is, now isolated she feels. We wouldn't then also need a scene where Rapunzel brushes her hair and thinks how lonely it is in the tower. We've done that.

4) Flesh out the scenes

For each event--these will becomes scenes--write down:
a) What happens.
b) When it happens.
c) Where it is.
d) The character arc.
e) The time of day.
f) Who is the main character of the scene.

Outlining: Multiple Points of View


In part (1), above, we wrote down a list of actions. These actions are going to get us from the first event: the parents stealing the witch's plant to the last one, true love. (Mary did a great impression of The Impressive Clergyman in The Princess Bride. If you ever have a chance to take one of her workshops, do! It's a lot of fun. Moving on .... )

Balancing point of view (POV) scenes
For each scene decide which character has the most at stake, that's the POV of the scene. Now look at which characters have POVs and if you need to balance them. To balance things you may need to change what's at stake for a character within a scene.

For instance, lets look at the scene where the prince climbs the tower for the first time. It seems reasonable to write that scene from the prince's point of view because he seems to have the most at stake. He could fall, the witch/enchantress probably would do something nasty to him if she came back and caught him, and so on.

But if we needed for Rapunzel to have the point of view we could talk about how much it hurt to have someone climb your hair and how much she would be in trouble with the witch were the prince discovered.

When NOT to give a character a POV scene
One thing Mary stressed was that if a character has nothing at stake then you don't write a scene from their point of view.

POV and your main character
Keep in mind that, all things being equal, the character you start with will be the character your audience most identifies with and so that is the character you need to end with. For instance, if your first scene is told from Rapunzel's POV then you need to end with a scene from Rapunzel's POV.

Outlining and the MICE Quotient


Wow! This post is a lot longer than I thought it would be.

Although this section was what I had intended to get to, it's what I've been working up to, I think I'm going to leave off and come back tomorrow. My post yesterday was lengthy and contained a lot of information so I don't want to overload anyone.

Please do come back tomorrow and I'll (finally!) talk about how to use the MICE quotient with your outline to create a killer story. :-)

Cheers!


Here are all the articles in this series:
- Orson Scott Card & The MICE Quotient: How To Structure Your Story
- Mary Robinette Kowal And The Mysteries Of Outlining
- The Mysteries Of Outlining And Nesting MICE: Creating Killer Stories
- Making A Scene: Using Conflicts And Setbacks To Create Narrative Drive

Other articles you might like:

- Book Review Blogs That Accept Self-Published Work
- What to do if your book isn't selling: Tips from Johanna Penn

Photo credit: Barnaby Kerr Photography

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