On Facebook, reader Alon asks about the process of writing outlines.
“Can you upload an outline of a book you made before writing it? I struggle with the concept.”
That’s a good question. So for today’s post, I’ll explain how I outline a book, and then share the original outline from FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT below.
(Naturally, this post will have massive !!!SPOILERS!!! for FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT.)
To outline a book, I basically first decide on the conflict and the main villain. Traditionally short stories have an arc consisting of the introduction to a conflict, rising action, the climax, and then the resolution. Novels are the same thing except longer, and can contain multiple arcs – characters will usually have internal struggles as well as external ones, and will face several setbacks and minor conflicts before arising at the main climax.
I then make a list of really significant or exciting scenes that I want to see in the book. Things like strong climactic scenes, character interactions, funny parts, battles, important details to mention because they will turn up in later books, and so forth. (Like, right now the outline for GHOST IN THE GLASS is a list of important events and scenes I want to happen in the book, but nothing more.)
Next, I write a synopsis that encompasses all those scenes and links them together. Once that is done, I divide the synopsis into an appropriate number of chapters depending on how long I want the book to be. I usually assume 3000 to 5000 words per chapter.
Then I give each chapter a heading. I have to admit that’s one of my favorite parts, since in the bad old days of traditional publishing, a lot of publishers and agents had submission guidelines strictly forbidding chapter headings. So now I do it gleefully.
I do admit I sometimes and frequently decide to do things differently than how I outlined. The outline for FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT is a good example. In the outline, Ridmark, Kharlacht, Calliande, and Caius all leave Dun Licinia at the end together. But when I actually got to that chapter, I decided I would be better for Ridmark to leave alone.
I think this was better for several reasons. First, it fit Ridmark’s character. Second, it excellently set up the first couple of chapters in THE EIGHTFOLD KNIFE, since part of the action in the first part of that book would be Calliande trying to find Ridmark again. Third, it was a good foreshadowing of Ridmark and Calliande’s growing attraction, since it showed that she had started to care about him a great deal.
So I do outline everything in advance, but sometimes I listen to my gut, because I’ve written 60+ novels at this point and my subconscious occasionally knows what it’s talking about.
And sometimes I’ll change things literally at the last minute. In my recent book GHOST IN THE RING, the villain was originally named Sergei Nagrach. I was never happy with that, so about five minutes before I finalized the book, I went through and changed Sergei to Razdan, and was much happier with it.
Below is the original outline for FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT I wrote back in summer of 2013. It is interesting to look back and see how the final book changed from the original outline.
(I should mention that my outlines sometimes make no sense whatsoever to anyone but me, and I occasionally leave reminders about household tasks in my outlines.)
A Brief Prologue
Chapter 1 – The Knight and the Friar
The day it all began, the day the blue fire filled the sky, Ridmark Arban arrived at the town of Dun Licinia. Gray cloak and iron staff, the Breaksword brand on his left cheek and jaw.
Simply wants to pass through on his way back to the Wilderland, trouble with the militia guards at the gate.
Taken to see his old friend Sir Joram, acting as castellan until Dux Licinius sends out a new Comes for the town. Joram uneasy, doesn’t blame him for what happened to Aelia and Mhalek, but trouble. A dwarven friar has vanished in the wilderness from Khald Tormen, and embarrassing if he is gone.
Ridmark agrees to find him back.
Talks with the farmer about his cows, the farmer complains.
Ridmark finds orc tracks, orc hair, freaks out the farmer, and heads into the wilderness in pursuit.
Chapter 2 – The Omen
Ridmark tracks the orc tracks.
Finds a Mhalekite scout, instantly enraged, orc from the wild lands of Vharluusk.
Kills the orc in a battle, examines its gear.
Follows the trail, finds a half-dozen Mhalekite orcs surrounding the friar, a sturdy dwarf of middle years. Ridmark extremely impressed by his charisma and poise, steady certainty, turned away from the gods of the Deeps.
A vicious fight, Ridmark wins.
Caius introduces himself.
Ridmark says they have to go back and warn Sir Joram, Mhalekite orcs probably massing near the Tower of Vigilance to the north, ruined during the civil war of the Five Princes. Caius dismisses the piety of the nobility, but Ridmark says Joram is a good sort.
Then the blue fire fills the sky, emanating from the north.
Chapter 3 – Awakening
Calliande awakens in the dark vault under the Tower of Vigilance.
Has a disturbing series of dreams…white-skinned men with burning blue eyes, ice covering the world, and an elf with black veins and strange mercury eyes.
Awakens, but alone and panicked and terrified. Something has gone wrong.
Clothes covered in cobwebs, desperately seeking for her staff.
Missing her staff.
Running out of air.
An image of her seneschal, tells her that the War of the Five Princes destroyed the Tower of Vigilance, that they were unable to wait for her.
Stumbles out of the vault, manages to force open the door.
Expects to see a bustling castle.
Instead a charred, burned ruin.
Her robes crumble away, leaving her freezing.
Sees the orc.
Chapter 4 – The Tower of Vigilance
Ridmark and Caius go to the Tower of Vigilance, a half-day away from Dun Licinia.
Claims the Frostborn will return, but Caius doesn’t really believe him.
Attacked by a drake, drive it off
Talk about the Mhalekite orcs – five years earlier, Mhalek claimed to be one of the orcish blood gods reborn, led an army into Andomhaim, but Ridmark stopped him at the cost of Aelia’s life.
Stop and fight two more orcs, realize that hundreds of Mhalekite orcs are in the ruined Tower.
Chapter 5 – Shadowbearer
Calliande runs, but barefoot and unclothed, the orcs capture her.
Drag her before Qazarl and Kharlacht and Vlazar.
Questioned roughly by them.
Shadowbearer arrives, Calliande terrified by him, but cannot say way.
Orc attempts to assault her, Shadowbearer kills him.
Shadowbearer reads her mind, trying to find the location of the sword & staff, but her memory is too broken.
Tells him to take the empty soulstone and kill it with Calliande at the stone circle further up the black mountain. Do so and they shall be rewarded. Kharlacht and Vlazar get that task. Qazarl wants to burn Dun Licinia to ashes.
Party splits up.
Chapter 6 – Pursuit
Ridmark witnesses the argument between Qazarl, Vlazar, and Kharlacht, the orc in the dark elven armor.
The imprisoned woman in their midst.
Attacked by a drake, drive it off
Drag her up to the foothills of the Black Mountain.
Ridmark goes in pursuit, Caius following.
Heading for the stone circle further up the mountain.
Chapter 7 – Stone Circle
Kharlacht guards Calliande as they drag her up the mountain, gives her a cloak.
Vlazar threatens her, Kharlacht threatens him back.
Finally reach the altar atop the foothills.
Feels the tremendous dark magic there.
Bind her to the altar, and prepare to kill her as Vlazar works a spell.
Chapter 8 – Iron Staff
Ridmark sees what is happening, Caius says they must intervene.
Ridmark agrees, and then decides to rouse the nearby den of drakes.
Lures the drakes into attacking the orcs.
Kills several of the orcs, liberates Calliande, and takes her from the stone circle.
Kills Vlazar, and takes Calliande and runs, pursued by Kharlacht.
Chapter 9 – The Deeps
Flee alongside the Black Mountain, pursued by Kharlacht and his warriors.
Flee into an entrance to the Deeps, the vast maze of caverns that lies beneath Andomhaim.
Attacked by an ursaar, a dark elven bear, like the urvaalg. Can turn invisible.
Go in, pursued by Kharlacht, but a cave-in, sealing Ridmark, Calliande, and Caius in with Kharlacht.
Chapter 10 – A Pact
A brief, hostile stand-off with Kharlacht
Caius suggests that they all work together until they escape the Deeps.
Question Kharlacht – he is one of the baptized orcs, but Qazarl and Vlazar were disciples of Mhalek, and believe Shadowbearer will promise them glory.
Worries about Shadowbearer, the mythical figure who corrupted the high elves into the dark elves
Would not aid them, but part of his sister’s clan, and bound by ties of honor to do so.
Set off into the Deeps.
Chapter 11 – Lost Memories
Find a campsite in a safe place, Caius and Ridmark agree it is defensible.
Ridmark and Caius speak to Calliande.
Get the story out of her, but cannot remember anything that happened before waking up in the vault.
Caius thinks Vlazar altered her memory, but Ridmark doubtful.
Attacked by blind lizard, fights them off, pets of the dark elves. Or the kobolds, and see the spitfang has a brand.
Chapter 12 – Raiders
Travel deeper into the Deeps, Caius think it was once a dwarven stronghold.
Attacked by kobold raiders, who carry off Calliande.
BUY DETERGENT/LIGHT BULBS
Chapter 13 – The Shaman
Carried by kobolds into their village in the dwarven ruins.
Questioned by the shaman, who calls her powerful, says he will find a way to claim her power.
Chapter 14 – Fangs
Ridmark, Kharlacht, and Caius track Calliande back to the kobolds’ village.
Ridmark thinks up a plan, walks into the village, demands Calliande back.
Kharlacht attacks from the side, sabotaging the lizards’ pens with musk.
Drives the lizards berserk, and the shaman tries to take Calliande.
Fights him off and burns him, doesn’t know how, and with Ridmark flees the village.
Chapter 15 – Parting
Talks about the Eternalists, the kobold claimed to be an Eternalist Magistri named Talvinius who knew her.
Leaves the Deeps behind, pursued by angry kobolds.
Parts way with Kharlacht, tells them he will honor their agreement and not attack.
But he is bound by duty to speak with Qazarl, and to tell him what happened, and that Qazarl will come for Calliande.
Ridmark agrees, and they head for Dun Licinia.
Chapter 16 – Preparations
Ridmark returns to Dun Licinia, see the town unprepared for battle.
Goes to Sir Joram, warns him of the attack, gets Sir Joram to sound the alarm.
But the Magistrius refuses to call for help.
Chapter 17 – A Bargain
The Magistrius refuses to recognize the danger, badly frightened by Calliande.
Mentions the soulstone.
Ridmark forces him to reveal that he had taken bribes from Qazarl, a scroll of secret magic.
Sends a message to aid to Dux Licinius in exchange for his life.
Alarm sound, scouts report a great band of orcs is heading for the walls, accompanied by kobolds.
Chapter 18 – Siegecraft
Joram and Ridmark prepare for the siege, Joram overwhelmed, lets Ridmark take command. Kobolds with them.
Calliande feels angry and useless.
The farmer from the beginning comes in as the nearby villages flee into the walls of Dun Licinia.
The orcish horde arrives.
The first attacks on the walls. Kobold night attack.
Chapter 19 – Assault
Qazarl demands that Dun Licinia surrender.
Demands that they hand over Calliande, and the townsmen tempted, but Ridmark refuses.
Launches an assault, they manage to fight it off.
Chapter 20 – Challenge
Three days of fighting.
Calliande speaks more with Ridmark. Thanks him for everything.
Finally Qazarl proposes trial by combat. Ridmark agrees, and goes out as the champion.
Chapter 21 – The Duel
Ridmark fights Kharlacht, a ferocious duel, but Ridmark prevails.
Qazarl breaks the truce, and launches an assault.
Ridmark and Kharlacht fight back to back.
The Knights of Castra Marcaine, led by the Swordbearer Knight Sir Constantine Licinius, charge the enemy.
Chapter 22 – The Magistria and the Shaman
Furious battle, Ridmark and Constantine and Kharlacht charge through the fray, Constantine stunned to recognize Ridmark.
Hack their way to Qazarl’s side, but Qazarl’s bloodmagic too strong.
Calliande senses Alamur’s magic.
The Magistrius betrays Calliande, prepares to hand her over to Shadowbearer’s hissing shadow after Calliande overhears him, but recovers her powers, defeats him, and breaks Qazarl’s wards.
Calliande uses Ridmark’s dagger to defeat Alamur and overpower him.
Ridmark defeats Qazarl.
Chapter 23 – The Broken Orcs
Calliande’s POV, discussions with Sir Joram, Sir Constantine, and Caius. The Magistrius defeated, and Sir Joram named the new Comes of Dun Licinia.
Joram says it should be Ridmark, Constantine agrees, but says his sister will not, and Ridmark will never accept it.
Explains that his sister Aelia was married to Ridmark, and that Ridmark defeated Mhalek at the cost of Aelia’s life.
Joram invites Calliande to stay as the new Magistria, but declines.
Chapter 24 – The Omen’s Meaning
Ridmark leaves for Urd Morlemoch, dark elven ruin.
Calliande and Caius stop him.
Explains that the omen means the Frostborn will return, an urdmordar told him that the Frostborn will return, even though they are extinct, and that he needs to return to Urd Morlemoch to find the answer.
Calliande and Caius insist upon going with him.
Ridmark refuses, but finally relents.
Kharlacht also joins them, honor-bound to do so, now an exile from the clans of Vharluusk. Now has a new meaning – to follow Ridmark.
The four set off to the north.
Shadowbearer contemplates Qazarl’s failure, considers his options ahead – the world will burn, and he will have Calliande.