Three Dirty Birds and Connecting the Dots


The Three Dirty Birds are back with Chapter 4 of KM Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel: Mapping Your Way to Success. Today we’re talking about what Weiland calls ‘Connecting the Dots’.

Kate: I think we need to stop reading outlining books. I’m developing a ‘permanently annoyed’ state of mind. I’m going to get wrinkles!

Ana: So long as you don’t get your feathers in a twist!

Zoe: We can’t have that! But yeah, even though the Stephen James (anti-outlining) book was annoying at times, it had a lot of meat…and this book is more vegan. Lots of textured vegetable protein shaped into hamburger patties.

Kate: Does anyone, even pantsers, write without a scene list somewhere, even if it’s just in their head? I’m coming to the conclusion that this is the only difference between pantsers and plotters–one does it on paper, one keeps it all ‘upstairs’.

Ana: I’m not sure it’s the only difference, but certainly part of it. I mean, I’ve started writing books without knowing the ending, which is something most plotters don’t do, I guess. I never know all my scenes, just the next few, and maybe a few relating to far ahead plot events I know I’ll eventually reach.

Zoe: Yeah, there’s probably a difference in level of knowing the story between plotters and (most) pantsers before they start, but I get what Kate is saying with regard to this book: it’s almost as if the author is talking to us like pantsers don’t think about their books at all—it just flows straight out of their fingertips without passing through their conscious brains.

Kate: Yes, that’s the impression I get from her. I wonder how many pantsers she talked to before writing this book? My last half hour before I go to sleep is running plotlines in my head, rewinding, changing something, running it again. That, or letting the plot bunny run wild in every crazy direction I can point it in. There’s no lack of planning–I just don’t use paper.

Ana: I don’t know, I feel like she turned to plotting because she didn’t know how to pants in any effective way (for her.) And then when she wrote this book she turned to more people who couldn’t pants. I’d have been more impressed with accounts from people who have actually pantsed books before starting to plot and finding that it helped, you know? (By which I mean, successfully pantsed, not ‘I tried and crashed and burned and it was awful.’)

Kate: Maybe we’ll get an interview like that later in the book.

Zoe: There’s actually a discussion going on right now in one of the places I hang out, started by an author who tried plotting for the first time and found it successful in that she was able to write her book much faster…yet the process felt stilted to her, so she wasn’t entirely happy with it (though she’s looking into alternate ways of plotting so that she can try to get the best of both worlds, which is what the discussion is about).

Kate: I would love the best of both worlds. That’s what I’m trying to get to, with all this outlining reading I’ve been doing.

Ana: Same. Because, let’s be honest, I’m never going to sit down and write a scenes list.

Zoe: Me either. Or at least, I’ll never set out to write one. Once I’ve written my synopsys-y telling of the story I’m going to write, I might break it into scenes to drop into Scrivener (or I might not, if I’m using Word).

Ana: That’s probably a good plan of attack. To come back to the writing things down instead of keeping it in your head thing, I think this is why I like talking my plot out with people. When I sit down at my computer to write down stuff like character motivation for myself, my brain goes meh, bored now, why are we doing this, you already know all this stuff, shutting down, bye. But when I have someone to talk at, it’s like I have a reason to write these things down and think about how to put them into words.

Kate: I think Ana and I have the same brain. I’m enjoying Scrivener (though I’m still getting the hang of using scenes) because I can put down the backbone of the story as chapter (and now scenes within the chapters) and, when I get to a chapter and realize the story I have in my head is too big for it, then I can break it into two or three.

Maybe I do outline, but I just do it in Scrivener…

Zoe: I think you do. And Ana outlines with her mouth.

Kate: Chatty bird. 🙂 I’m not good with putting stuff on paper, because it feels permanent then. Like, if I write it down, there’s an inertia to it that makes it hard to change, even if I can see that it’s wrong.

Zoe: I don’t have that inertia. If I have something wrong, I’m happy I spent 80 words getting that part wrong and not 80,000.

Ana: I have to find another way to make my brain work, because I don’t always have people to talk at. (But honestly, when I think back, even as a kid when I was telling myself stories, I pretended I was telling them to an invisible listener.)

Zoe: Invisible friends are cheap and never overstay their welcome. (Or eat all your food.) You should resurrect one.

Ana: One of them was a talking elephant. (Also the only reason I can get myself to write down the stories in my head onto paper is because I want to share them, which is why having an alpha reader works so well for me.)

Kate: That’s an awesome friend!

Zoe: How exotic!

Kate: I have to ask–does anyone have anything to say about this chapter?

Zoe: Not especially. We can move on to not talking about chapter five any time you’re ready. (But a quick recap for readers: summarize your scenes, highlight the problem areas, connect the dots, and listen to your body…which apparently doesn’t have anything to do with your bladder.)

Ana: I have something I want to crank about. There’s this quote under the bullet point “The Scene List” that basically goes “you know when you’re not ready; you may be wrong about being ready, but you’re rarely wrong about being not ready.” She’s basically giving hundreds of insecure writers an excuse to not start writing.

Kate: You’ll never be ready until you’re willing to sit down and explore a little. You’re right, she is giving them the option not to start, because their ‘gut’ says not to. The problem I see with that is sometimes I need to start a story for some of the middle stuff to make it out of my subconscious and into the light (and the manuscript). I did think the ‘Ask questions’ advice for when you get stuck was good. It’s what I do, though I’ve been doing it for a while.

Zoe: I totally thought of you when I got to that section.

Kate: Lol. What did you think of the interview at the end?

Zoe:I continued my trend of not reading it. Did I miss anything?

Kate: Only irritation. Because pantsing is only for stories of a specific structure, like a journey. Any plot or character arc isn’t a journey. Only physical journeys can be pantsed.

Ana: Do they realize Stephen King is a high order pantser?

Zoe: I always loved his analogies for discovering his stories, with the whole digging them out of the ground, finding out what they are bit by bit as they get uncovered. Or bringing them up from the basement!

Kate: I’d be afraid of anything King brought out of his basement. (I am afraid of everything he brings out of his basement.)

For me, it’s more like a walk through the woods. You can see the woods from outside them, but you only see the detail as you go through it.

Zoe: Now let’s take a walk…over to chapter five.

About the author: Kate Lowell

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