Take Off Your Pants

I have read Libby Hawker‘s book on outlining. In short, I mostly like it. It gives a great framework to start with when approaching the daunting task of outlining a novel. I was introduced to this book by an online discussion in a group within Scribophile, an online writing and critiquing site. Several of our group are using this book as a guide to plotting, and discussion on the group’s forum brought my attention to it.

I enjoyed her idea that a character flaw driven story arc drives the external arc.  That external arc then assists in building a plot that is kept in check by theme, defined as an underlying and unifying concept. My interpretation of her outlining methodology is potentially flawed and subject to change as I work through the process and hopefully grow more enlightened.

As I read through this book, she walked me step by step through her process with clear descriptions and examples of what she is trying to help me accomplish at any given step. All through the steps leading up to and working through outlining and plotting were clear to me, and I enjoyed the character arc driven insight the book had to offer. This book got more difficult to follow once she was beyond the plotting stage and headed into what she referred to as “Pacing”.

This breaks down for me in an area where I admit I have been struggling with lately – bridging the gap from plot points/tent pole moments to a series of scenes during the outlining. I have been struggling within this part of my own writing journey, so I am hesitant to label this a flaw of the book. This could and is quite likely a result of my own shortcomings to get through this bit of the process.  In this discussion of creating beats from plot points and then scenes from these beats, she discusses the idea of inverted triangles which I am not able to visualize based on her descriptions. After discussing with my writing partner, we think “funnel” might be closer to what the author intended, but I can’t be sure. I hope to gain clarity in the practical application of her ideas as I follow her instructions.

Though not without its flaws, I am glad I purchased this book and hope to learn more as I work through and apply her outlining method to a story idea I am currently working on. While I apply this process in actual practice, I might find I come to understand the areas that were not clear to me. This is, at least, my goal.

As I started working through this process, I found I was flipping back and forth through this book to find the order and explanation of each step. To help myself with this, I put together a template to guide me. I doubt I will use it without the book handy as a companion but find it helpful to have a condensed set of steps to guide me though the outline. I offer my crude templates below.

One is a blank template, and one has a brief guide to the process order with some hint text in the fields. I imagine the blank one being printed out and filled in while flipping through the book, though I am using the guided one in word. I am over writing the hint text as I work though each field.





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