From Outline to Skeleton to Scene

We tend to work from an outline when developing a Cladespace book. The outline tends to be fairly high level, generally describing an individual scene. We keep track of which characters are in the scene, the point of view for the scene, the setting, the objective and a short description.

For example, here are two scenes from the outline for Ceres Rising.

Scene 26. Jacob, awake:

  • Characters (POV): (Jacob)
  • Setting: Jacob’s apartment
  • Objective: Demonstrate that Jacob wants to change.
  • Description: Jacob’s sure the arrest really happened. He wants to get better. He wants to use the excuse of Lee’s arrest to stop ink. (He’ll have to, there’s nobody left to transmit the neural modification.) But he wants a firm foundation for reality so decides to ask somebody he knows will tell him the truth.

Scene 27. Visitor

  • Characters (POV): (Mhau), Jacob
  • Setting: Mhau’s apartment
  • Objective: Jacob learns what happened, mostly.
  • Description: Who does Jacob visit? Mhau! But Mhau doesn’t know everything about the arrest—she advises Jacob to seek out Grace.

From the outline, it’s time to develop the skeleton, which is like an abbreviated version of the draft itself. For the above two scenes, the skeleton looks like this:

Jacob’s head is pounding. He’s been Inked for seven hours. Maybe he’s just hungry.

But both hands are hurting too. His knuckles are abraded.

And his right foot feels like its bruised.

He remembers arguing. With whom?

He looks at his hands; was he arguing with the wall while he was Inked?

Inked. Inked. He was arguing with Lee.

Jacob starts to remember, but he’s still unsure.

He remembers the bribe and looks at his ptenda. Sure enough, there are two aborted connection attempts to transfer credits to his ptenda.

But where’s Lee? He remembers Lee being dragged away. He remembers Lee seemingly relieved to be dragged away. Jacob looks back at his hands; he understands why.

He remembers Grace Donner. Towering Grace Donner. Protector Grace Donner.

Some of his fury returns; that should have been his arrest.

He taps his sleep squeeze. He’s surprised when haptic feedback reports that he still has plenty of Ink.

Jacob’s still angry, but he must choose: drop back into Ink or find out what really happened.

He could find Grace Donner and get her version of reality. But he hardly knows her. She took his job. (She didn’t take it, you lost it, he tells himself.)

Mhau will know. She knows everything that goes on at Bode-6.

He’ll comm her. He looks at his ptenda. No. He needs to see her.

*** {POV break, switch to Mhau.}

Mhau hears her door ping. She opens it.

“You look horrible,” Mhau said to Jacob.

She notices his hands.

Maybe she should have visited him last night. But she figured he needed the rest, even if it was in Ink.

“Can you tell me what–”

“What happened yesterday?” she said.

He nods.

She tells him that Lee visited him to bribe him or, if he didn’t accept, to kill him.

Mhau confirms that he didn’t accept and that he actually attacked Lee.

She tells him that Grace showed up and took him into custody.

“How did she know?” Jacob said. “Wait, how’d you know about the bribe attempt. Did Lee confess?”

“He didn’t have to,” she said.

Mhau tells him about the blurp network.

She looks again at his hands.

“You should have Kyran look at them,” she said.

Now that Lee’s locked up, Mhau thinks about Jacob going without Ink.

“You should have Kyran look at you,” she added.

Okay, with the skeleton in place, it’s time to write the scenes!

Jacob woke violently. His right leg twitched and he heard the deep, resonate thud as it vibrated against the crate.

The amount of Ink he’d streamed the night before undoubtedly caused the tremors. But Ink allowed him to forget the now, forget the why. He longed to be anywhere or any when. But he didn’t want to be here or now.

Jacob rubbed his eyes and looked at his ptenda. Inked for seven hours. His head pounded. Oof–maybe I’m just hungry.

Thinking of food was a mistake. He felt a wave of nausea and tried to master it.

Bad enough to sleep here in G36. Throwing up would make it truly, horribly worse.

He steadied himself against the crate and focused on the strong horizontal lines of the other crates in the storage room. His stomach started to calm down.

As consciousness returned, he abruptly realized it was more than hunger. Both hands were hurting, too. The knuckles on his right hand had a dull, throbbing ache while the side of his left hand felt like it had been clamped in a vise. He used the crate to prop himself up, wincing as his right ankle complained, too.

Did I fall?

No, that made no sense. There wasn’t anything high enough in this storage locker.

Was I flailing in my sleep–beating myself against the walls?

Jacob looked again at his hands. They hadn’t looked this bad since he’d gotten in that fight back home with–

Fighting. I was fighting with somebody. In Ink?

Jacob tried to remember. It made his head hurt worse. He knew it had something to do with Ink, or someone to–

Wait. Lee?

He tried to focus on Lee but was only getting snippets, some of which he thought might be Ink and others that teased as reality. More distinct than his memories, however, were his emotions. He was angry, angry about something he couldn’t quite recall, something that made him–

Lee tried to bribe me.

Wanting confirmation, Jacob tapped his ptenda. He focused on two aborted connection attempts, both trying to deliver credits to his ptenda.

“Lee!” he shouted, viscerally scanning the storage locker, yet knowing Lee wasn’t there.

Don’t scream. Headache, right?

He saw Lee forcibly dragged away. Indeed, he seemed to remember that Lee seemed relieved to being pulled out of the storage room. Jacob looked back at his hands, turning them over and seeing the bruises.

Grace Donner took Lee away. Towering Grace Donner. Protector Grace Donner.

Jacob seethed at the vision of the protector pulling Lee away. He had taken Lee down and it should have been he that arrested the roider. Not some offworlder, not some tourist. His anger made him shake, unnerving him with its bright fiery spark. He needed to find some level of calm or his cranium would split.


Jacob reached around and tapped his sleep squeeze. After seven hours of Ink, he knew his timeshare would have expired. He jumped when its haptic feedback indicated he still had plenty of timeshare. All he’d have to do is tap it and all the messiness would vanish.

He glanced at the door.

Or I could march out and really find out what happened.

Jacob knew that Grace Donner was staying at Kyran’s. He could go there, and the protector would clearly tell him what had transpired.

But she took my job. He shook his head, knowing that she didn’t take it, he’d lost it.

He knew a gentler path to the truth. Mhau. She knows everything that goes on at Bode-6.

Jacob reached his ptenda, intending to comm Mhau but stopping as he saw his hand shake.

I really need to see her.


Mhau Tapang sat at her workbench staring at the impact cannon. She had never approved of this particular tool. She’d balked when Jacob purchased it cheaply for her a year ago. Back when neither had much money. Now that she had a decent cash flow, she didn’t understand why she should be wasting her time repairing this particular piece of junk.

She knew why, of course. It was because Jacob had given it to her.

She unbolted the access plate and exposed the massive solenoid. She sighed her frustration and glanced at the winding. There were her sixteen previous repairs of the superconducting wire staring back at her. Now she just needed to find where to make repair seventeen. This was precisely why she hated this cannon. The manufacturer had used an incorrectly doped wire and it was prone to thermal breakdown after negligible use.

“I hate you,” she said to the cannon.

She grabbed the magnification goggles and strapped it over her eyes. Flipping on the switch, she started a detailed examination of the winding. If this repair were like the last several, she foresaw several hours of tedious, boring work.

The goggles beeped as the display brought potential malfunctions into focus. But as she checked, each one turned out to be a false positive.


That was odd. A particularly loud alert. Mhau frowned as she considered whether the goggles were perhaps now malfunctioning. She didn’t know enough about the optical circuitry to repair the goggles and new ones would cost the equivalent of about ten impact cannons.


This sound was not a good sign. The goggles weren’t even highlighting an area on the display or–


Mhau realized the alert wasn’t from the goggles. Someone was asking to be let in. She glanced at her ptenda and was surprised to see who it was. She bounced down the hallway to the entrance and opened the door.

“Gak!” Jacob was momentarily startled as her goggled face came into view.

Mhau removed the goggles with one hand and reached out to Jacob with the other.

“Come in. I wondered if you’d be stopping by.”

He stepped tentatively inside and took the nearest seat. It was a small bench that she kept near the door.

“C’mon. You can do better than that.” She guided him deeper into the room and pulled out two chairs. Jacob was wan and shaky.

“You look horrible,” she said. “Oh! Your hands–” She frowned. “Do they hurt? Do you want me to–”

He shook his head.

“I knew I should have visited you last night,” she said. “But I figured you’d need the rest, even if it was in Ink.”

Jacob stared at her. “Can you tell me what–”

“Happened to you last night?” she said.

He nodded. “Please. It’s all weird, I’m not sure what’s real, what’s Ink–I thought maybe you could help me.”

Of course I can help you.

“Lee decided to bribe you–and if he couldn’t bribe you, he was going to kill you.” She reached out and stroked his knee. “But honey, you stood up to him. You didn’t accept!”

Though he looked pitiful, she was proud of him.

“In fact, you attacked Lee. Grace intervened and arrested him.”

“How did she know?” Jacob asked. “Hold on. How’d you even know about the bribe attempt? Did Lee confess?”

“He didn’t have to,” she beamed. “Grace used the blurp network to monitor Lee. She heard everything!”

Jacob’s hands were trembling. “You should have Kyran look at them.”

She wasn’t certain if the trembling was due to his ordeal with Lee or with Ink. With Lee locked up, is Jacob going into Ink withdrawal?

“I’ll go, too. We should have Kyran look at you.”