Posts Tagged ‘outlining a novel’


Though I’ve been taught to never start writing a book without having my beginning, middle, and end in mind, I have continually insisted on sitting down and blindly tapping away at the keyboard, trusting the plot to work itself out as I go. And sometimes, the story does just that…but sometimes it doesn’t, and when it doesn’t, as I’ve recently learned the hard way, it’s a mess.

Since deciding that the book I’m currently working on might be stronger if it were written in the third person point of view (and I have to virtually start the book over anyway), I’ve refused to make that mistake again. Therefore, I’ve spent the majority of the past week or so working on an outline for the book.

Here’s what I’m learning:

1) My characters need a little structure. What I mean by that is, although I love the surprises my characters present to me as I write along, I need to keep them under control, to a point. As any writer knows, characters have a way of taking the story into their own fictitious little hands, and guiding the plot their own way. Sometimes, this is a blessing. Other times, it’s a curse. I’m finding that giving them freedom, but within the confines of the stories structure, works out well as long as the boundaries are set in place.

2) My outlines never go exactly as I plan them. Even with a solid outline, the characters bring their own attitudes and actions to the story, the same way actors do with their scripts, so for me, having an outline really doesn’t limit my creative freedom.

3) Outlining is a great way to know what comes next. Nothing sucks worse than getting 35,000 words into a story and suddenly wondering now what? I’m finding that having an outline in place eliminates this problem, and for me, that is awesome.

4) Outlining is hard, damn it. There seem to be two types of writers: those who excel and plot, and those whose strength lies in characterization. I am of the latter persuasion. I just kind of “get” characters. I understand how to make them move and speak, and I usually instinctively know “who” they are and what they want. Creating a strong plot to cast them in, however, isn’t so easy for me. I don’t know how other writers operate, but I see glimpses of story ~ small, seemingly unrelated flashes of action, dialogue, or events. It’s my job then to put these slices of plot into some kind of order, and to ultimately tell a solid and cohesive story. This, for me, is usually pretty challenging, but although it’s difficult (for me anyway), it saves me a lot of trouble in the long run.

5) Process is unique to every writer. I’ve talked to many writers about their process, and none of them use exactly the same methods. This is both a blessing and a curse for the beginning writer. On one hand, it’s great because the possibilities are endless, and the new writer doesn’t feel restrained by the advice of other writers. On the other hand, every writer needs to develop his or her own process, and that takes time, practice, and requires a few (or a lot of) dead-end attempts.

6) Process can change from book to book. For me, some stories work just fine without an outline. When I was writing Sterling Bronson for Beautiful Monster, I rarely referenced the outline, although we had one made up. Sterling just kind of did his own thing, and since he divided his time with Brenna, Mimi’s character, there wasn’t any room for dawdling. The book I’m currently working on now however, needed to be outlined. This one is a more layered storyline and I don’t think there’s any way I could finish the book without a solid knowledge of where I’m going with it.

7) Finally, what I’ve learned from outlining is that whether or not you map your stories out at all, the most important thing in writing anything is still to simply sit down and do it. It doesn’t matter how you do it…just that you do it. I’ve heard of writers who spend so much time working out convoluted character development sheets, learning every detail of each character to the point of what this character’s favorite kind of socks are, that very little actual writing gets done. My advice: outline, even if it’s very skeletal…but let the story come to life as it’s being written. Let the details fill themselves in as the characters and the plot invent or require them.

Until next time,

Happy writing!

(What a typical outline of mine looks like!)

outlining

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While it’s true that Mimi and I wrote Beautiful Monster with an indeterminate ending, I’m not sure either of us had a sequel in mind, let alone that the storyline would evolve into a trilogy, but God help us, that’s the current plan.

Really this is my fault. It started with a dream I had one night several weeks ago ~ cheesy though that may be. I dreamed that she and I were talking, and she kept making references to “The Beautiful Books.” I even heard each of the titles: “Beautiful Monster,” “Beautiful Liar,” and “Beautiful Damnation.” When I woke up, I didn’t think of this as anything worth giving much thought to, but through a conversation with someone else that I had later in the day, it occurred me that maybe I should approach Mimi with the topic. I knew before I brought it up to her that it wasn’t something I wanted to try and sell her on…  I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea myself. I just wanted to make casual mention of the dream and let her response to it decide whether or not this was worthy of pursuit.

Her response was, “Omigod, we should!” or something along those lines. She started throwing out possible ideas then, and as soon as she told me her vision for the ultimate ending in Beautiful Damnation, I was well-invested. We talked about it in sporadic bursts through e-mail and texts for the next few days, but it wasn’t until we headed to Iowa for the 2012 Iowa Writer’s Conference that we really started mapping the second story out. So, between workshops, lectures, our downtime during the conference, and our travel-time, Mimi and I wrote a chapter by chapter synopsis of the story, and were able to get all but the last two chapters mapped out. Things often evolve in unexpected ways as the story is being written (which is why I don’t usually do real detailed outlines), so I’m interested to see what will end up in the final draft.

My vision for Beautiful Liar is a bit different from its prequel. In this one, I want to take Sterling (my character) out of his element entirely. I want to take everything away from him. I want to see how far he’s willing to go to get what he wants: Brenna (Mimi’s character). And… I want him to suffer ~ not only for the horrible things he did in Beautiful Monster, but also for the horrendous plans he has in the sequel. I don’t plan to give him a single moment of peace this time. He is the bad guy, after all. So, without giving anything away, the plan this time around is to see what he’s really made of, and I’m curious to find out.

We realize we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We barely got a contract signed on the first book and plenty could still go wrong with that ~ unfortunately, it happens ~ so to assume the publisher will be interested in a second (let alone a third) book may seem a little overconfident. Luckily, that’s not why we’re doing it. I know that I want to do this for a few reasons. One, I am not done with Sterling Bronson and I want to see what else he has up his imported-silk sleeves. Second, I want resolution; not only for Sterling, but for Brenna as well. Third, I am in love with this story and really want to see its ultimate ending… and four, I work well with Mimi and am looking forward to doing another project with her. If a publisher never looks at it twice, then it will have been good practice and good times, and really, that’s what this is all about anyway. I admit that I’m not real eager to get back to world through Sterling’s bloodthirsty, crazy eyes, but why not make the most of the opportunity that we’ve been given?

And so it begins. Again. Wish us luck!