I’ve been working on the beats for A Ghast in the Machine since at least May 2018. My last update in October boasted that I’d finished the beats for about 12 chapters. Guess how many I have now?
That’s about two a month.
Clearly, I need to make some changes! I started thinking about why I was able to finish Divinity Ascending’s beats in a shorter span of time, and I think I figured out why. It’s a much more simple plot. I didn’t have to juggle as many plot or character interactions, so I was able to keep track of things with a minimum of administrative overhead.
Ghast seemed much more difficult to even start the beats, much less push them forward. I was taking a lot of time to reacquaint myself with the lay of the land between sessions, Using Scrivener’s cork board view and using different tags to color the Point of View (POV) characters helped, but there was still that burden of having to re-immerse myself every time. Some nights, I get less than a half an hour quiet time, and it’s easy to spend that much just getting ready!
Scrivener’s cork board is awesome, but I was missing something. Some key to getting more quickly back into the book’s universe.
I began to wonder if I needed a higher-level outline for Ghast. Something that would be more abstract than the beats, but at the same time, be more accessible — and accessible more quickly.
I did a bit of research and found posts like this one from the Scrivener forum. Scrivener can do outlines, but in the way felt natural to me. Plus, I love Scrivener for what it can do for the rest of the process, from character sketches to world building to beats to actually writing the novel. I didn’t want to interfere with any of those areas of functionality.
I thought it was time to look at a product that specialized in one thing: outlines. I needed something where I could sketch the main plot milestones that I learned from Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering.
As we all know, Google’s our friend when it comes to something like this. I used it to narrow down the list, but you know what? I wasn’t comfortable choosing something that’s going to be integral to my writing based on reviews alone. I had to be able to evaluate the product first.
I’ve used products from the Omni Group for years. I used OmniGraffle to create sketches of some of the interiors for the Indiana, one of the ships that’s going to play a big role in Ghast. Before that, I used OmniPlan to create moderately complex project plans. In both cases, I had good experiences not only with the products, but with the products’ tech support. It felt natural to try OmniOutliner for my current quest.
Since I have a Mac, I was able to use the App Store to download a trial version that would let me emulate the two versions: Essentials and Pro. I set the emulation to Pro and tried to re-express the beats I’d done as a plot-centric outline.
OmniOutliner looks like it’ll give me the higher level view that I think I need. I hope.
I learned two things from the exercise. First, OmniOutliner’s highlighting and other formatting tools will help me keep organized and oriented. I think it’ll give me a way to quickly engage with the material by showing me the plot context of each major development. I can map one major plot point/development to a family of beats.
Second, it showed me something I wasn’t looking for, but should have been: Because I didn’t have this view of the plot, my beats were drifting away from the plot structure I think I need. That means one of two things: I’ll need to spend a lot of time re-writing the beats to realign them, or I’ll miss that need entirely and end up writing the book based on plot-skewed beats.
That would mean one of two things: reduced readers because the plot would not be as satisfying, or a much bigger investment in time for rewrites. I would prefer to avoid either of those scenarios, thank you very much!
Now, I just hope that OmniOutliner will have the impact I hope it does! One of the benefits to me maintaining this blog is that I can see exactly how long things are taking, so I hope to have the answer soon!
Have you used a special-purpose outliner? If you have, I’d love to hear about your experiences!