May172019: Origin of the Onion Method

“May I ask what outline method you used? Seeing how other people do it helps motivate me”

This is the original post I made about the Onion Method before I wrote the final version on my blog.

(This is going to explain how I outline my graphic novels, which generally veer towards big themes and for older audiences)

I’ve my own method. I’ve called it The Onion Method. It uses two different, but complementary, approaches to producing a story outline:

1) I’m a Character-Based Plotter. I love character-based narratives. I love emotional arcs that get you in the feels. So I make character a guiding force in the story. Most of the time the first image I ever see in my head of a brand new story idea is a character. The second thing, if it isn’t another character, is the premise. Put two together, and you get a question.

With The Carpet Merchant, for example, it’s “Who is this nerd and how does he deal with his life turning upside down after getting attacked by a vampire?”

So I spend a lot of time understanding who Zeynel is; his relationships, his personality, his interests, (and more and more), and the circumstances that led him to become the protagonist of my story. This creates an emotional investment in Zeynel inside my heart (my sweet nerd son…), which makes it easier to convince the reader to like him too.

Then…BAM! He is placed into that situation.

Given what I’ve known about him, how will he handle that situation? That’s the story. I outline everything. I let him speak.

(the reason why this is a plotter, and not a pantser situation, is because I super plan everything inside my head first. I don’t discover the character as I outline. I discover them first before outline. That, and the second part of this Onion)

2) I’m a Big Giant Nerd. I love literary analysis. I love stories that I can peel apart to reveal threads and threads of themes, ideas, topics, messages. It’s admittedly very cerebral. But that’s the fuel that gives me life. The match that burns is what I call, the thesis.

The thesis can be a statement, a question, a particular topic you wish to explore, etc. In other words, it’s the expanded version of theme. What do you want to say? What do you want to explore? What is your goal for this book?

The thesis is the guiding force for all the external elements of the story; its voice, its structure, its shape. But it’s not removed from the character. The thesis exists to push the character, and the character exists to answer the thesis. Most importantly, the thesis helps you to know the possible beginnings and endings of the story.

image

Originally posted by wizpolys

Together, (1) and (2) create an Onion Story. Essentially, a character-based story that when cut open, reveals layers upon layers of character motivation and themes, ideas, topics messages interacting with each other.

It’s similar to the Snowflake Method. If only by principle. Snowflake doesn’t have the same process as Onion, at least for me haha. And it doesn’t have the Thesis component to bounce off with. Anyway.

In practice, this is what it looks like for the Alexander Comic.

Character-based: This GN is about Alexander the Great and his quest for immortality by finding the Water of Life.
Thesis: This GN will explore the legacy of both the historical Alexander and the legendary Alexander, using both historical biography and legendary folklore (the Alexander Romance) to critique power.
Character-based: Ok. So history shows that Alexander is a terrible, earthbound conquerer who used his power to obtain lands and riches for glory, which the legends constantly critique him for. What does the Water of Life mean to him then?
Thesis: The Water of Life symbolises another object in his thirst for eternal glory. It is Eternal Glory itself.
Character-based: Coolio. Both history and legend also show that he has a fear of dying.  The reason why he wants to be immortal is because he’s afraid of losing his earthly posessions.
Thesis: Yep!
Character-based: Okay…so what happens if he must give up the very things that he created harm to obtain, in order to get to the Water? What if he learns the harm he caused? What if he learns to be okay with losing everything? How will the Water change meaning to him then? …Will he still want it anymore?
Me: OMG there it is.

There are a lot more tangents and threads (and spoilers) to this conversation, but it is a condensed form of the 5 months I spent mulling it over in my head, in addition to research. Once I got to the OMG THERE IT IS phase, the thesis runs to provide fuel for the character-based plotting.

The con to this Onion Method is that it takes SO MUCH TIME just doing nothing except thinking and thinking and thinking (and reading). Everything brews slowly inside the brain soup pot. But when things begin to CLICK, when the sun hits just right, it’s like, DANG I AM HYPE.

haha that’s my Onion Method! I hope it helps.

Hello, hello

Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.

Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

Upcoming Events

French Book Tour, January 2024

Follow My Blog

Pop your email in the box below and be notified of my next post.

Categories

Archives

Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.

Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

Upcoming Events

French Book Tour, January 2024

Follow My Blog

Pop your email in the box below and be notified of my next post.

Categories

Archives