In the Floating Point era, I’m trying to use my blog less as a pure hype machine and more as a generalized platform to chat about creativity and online culture and such. So today, let’s do that.
A friend asked me for some general advice for an aspiring writer, for someone taking a keen interest in diving in for the first time in crafting a story, an RPG campaign, a game, whatever narrative engine you use to get your story across to an audience. Allow me to present you with the Twoflower Outside-In Technique, which will help you in crafting stories and in striking the pressure points of your enemies in such a way that they are turned inside-out in a goopy explosion of blood and organs.
The overall idea is this: Work from the outside in.
- Start with a “Big Picture” outline. When you start a new story project, have a GENERAL idea of how the entire book starts and ends, along with a few middle steps to get from start to finish. No major details yet, just get the basic arc down. This arc will change as you go, likely not ending where you expected, but having a direction to run towards will help.
- List all the chapters/stories/acts needed to make that outline work. You know how it starts and ends and generally what has to happen, now start digging in a little deeper and fleshing out the individual steps. Again, don’t go into huge detail, just have a few sentences or a paragraph summary of what MUST happen in each chapter.
- Dig into individual chapters, outlining them in a similar way. Start general, where a chapter must begin and end, what steps need to happen, then figure out scene-by-scene what will be going on. Outside in means having a framework and then gradually working to hang stuff all over it. This is where you can add character arcs and other non-main-plot related content; consider what subplots will be running behind the main one.
- Within each individual scene, tell a story. A scene has a purpose; where does it start, where does it end, what does it accomplish? How have things changed due to the existence of this scene? This is a great spot to dig deep into your characters, to see what motivates them, and to allow them to change over time in face of the larger picture.
- Remember, all plans can change. You will very likely not end up where you planned to end up, characters may surprise you with new traits evolving naturally out of their speech patterns, things like that. That’s fine! Just because you have meticulous plans doesn’t mean you can’t drop back fifty yards and punt. The bigger-picture outline is a guideline, not a doctrine. It gets you started and keeps you on track but you can change tracks at will. Insert other tortured metaphor here.
By working from macro to micro level, you can keep the big picture in mind while whittling away at the finer details.
This technique may not work for all types of writing or all types of stories; it’s very focused on how you push the main narrative and sub-narratives in a linear fashion, and relies on having contained units of story such as chapters or individual short stories in a series. But… if that’s the structure you’re using, I’ll stand behind this as a good way to approach the work.
Now, let’s turn this over to you. What techniques do you use in your own writing? What types of narrative constructions do you enjoy reading? I’d love to hear more!