Perils of the Writer: Going From Outline to Novel

So, a few weeks ago at Connooga, I got to talk about structure and outlining for novels, which is a thing I love talking about.  Now, I’m a big believer in the idea that there isn’t any One True Way to write a novel– I can’t tell you how you write one; I can only show you the tools in my toolbox, and if that helps you built your toolbox and method, then I’m happy to have helped.

The question came up how I structure and create outlines, and how that becomes a novel.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve got a twelve-part structure to work out the outline.  The brief version:

1. Establishment – Show character(s) and situation.
2. Incitement – Alteration of the status, or new information spurs protagonist out of usual comfort.
3. Challenge – Minor antagonists/obstacles put into play.
4. Altercation – Conflict with minor antagonists/obstacles, ends with degree of success/victory for protagonist.
5. Payback – Consequence for victory; minor antagonists/obstacles failure brings attention of major antagonist/obstacles, allowing a strike back at protagonist.
6. Regrouping – Protagonist reacts to the payback, possibly in an ineffective way.Thinks confrontation is over, relaxes.
7. Collapse – Protagonist struck at in a way that threatens the stability and safety of base situation.
8. Retreat – Protagonist must leave base situation to escape threat from main antagonist/obstacle.
9. Recovery – Protagonist establishes a new situation, enough to be stable and safe.
10. Investment – Personal attachment forces Protagonist back into fray with main antagonist/obstacle—they won’t choose to walk away.
11. Confrontation – Goes after main antagonist/obstacle, partly to reclaim investment.
12. Resolution – Defeat of main antagonist/obstacle, which can create a new base situation or re-establish stability of original one.

Creating the outline involves writing out about 100-250 words for each of these sections, resulting in about 1500 to 2000 words for the outline.

Of course, the real work is expanding that 1500-word document into a 100K novel. It should be noted that the structure of the outline is almost pure plot– the character work isn’t really in there.  Writing the novel is where that comes in, as well as working out the roles of secondary and tertiary characters.  One thing I realized after writing one of my trunked novels was not to come up with minor characters before working out their role in the plot.  In that trunked novel I had a full compliment of secondary characters who had no purpose other than to mill around in the background.  I came up with them early in the process because I thought I might need them.  But I never did for most of them, and some I bent over backwards to give them a purpose.

So, when you’re deep in the word mines, how do you expand outlines into the finished draft.