Outlining till It Hurts

While I’m waiting for The Devil’s Due to come back from my beta readers, I’m trying not to jump ahead and start working on the things I’m fairly certain they’re going to tell me about where the story could use some work. But I am filing away this nice piece of advice from Charlie Jane Anders about getting rid of the extraneous verbiage and making one thing flows from another in a logical manner.

Are you ready? Here’s the surefire advice for cutting without hitting muscle or bone: outlining. Specifically, keep outlining until it hurts. Outline things you’ve already rewritten a ton. Outline backwards. Do micro-outlines of every scene that’s not working.

The magic of outlining something you’ve already written and rewritten is, you can see where the actual beats are, and get a rough sense of just how much space each of the beats needs to have. (Not that pacing is an exact science, of course. Quite the reverse.) Outlining and re-outlining lets you see where you might have jumped a groove or had someone behave illogically, and also where you’re repeating steps.

And outlining backwards is magic. Start with the end, and then put “because” after that, and keep going back. This happens because this happens, because that other thing happens, and so on, back to the beginning. If you can’t stick a “because” between two things that are supposedly causally linked, that’s a bad sign.

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