Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Secret of Writing Books: Part 2

You survived last night’s pep talk. You’re charged and you’re ready for more. So, you’ve come back looking for more direction from me on how to write a novel. Now, keep in mind, this is how I write novels and this process might not work for everyone.

The next step comes in outlining novels. This I usually do while writing detailed character backgrounds for my main characters (which we will cover at a later date).

I am aware that there is this entire debate that is ongoing between the plotters (those who create detailed plot outlines ahead of time) and the panzers (those who write books by the seat of their pants). I’m not going to get into this debate. I’ve written both ways, and I’ve discovered that, for me, I work much faster and more efficiently when I have an outline of the plot. If you’re a panzer and it works for you, I would suggest skipping today’s entry and coming back tomorrow when I look at characters.

But for those interested in outlining… let’s get started.

Because of my panzer background, I’ll admit that I am not a detailed outliner. My main focus when creating an outline is to get down the main plot points that need to be covered in a given scene. I don’t decided things like location, chapter breaks, or even subplots until I am writing the scene. However, I will occasionally include a subplot if it is particularly important to me and I’m afraid that I might forget it.

The best way to explain my process might be to just show you. Below is a snippet from the plot outline I created for Nightwalker.

Intro of Mira and Danaus
Introduce Joseph
Meet in nightclub
Accosted by Lucas
Questions her working with Danaus
Mira asserts dominion over city
Warns that Elders are watching
Humans are beginning to ask questions
Bodies found

If you’ve read the book, you know that there is a lot more meat around the brief points that are listed above. For me, the plot outline is a device that is used to simply jog my memory when I forget what was to happen next. The items are also supposed to key on important things that need to be accomplished. In the night club scene between Mira and Danaus, the key thing is that Mira needs to see are the pictures and the dagger that Danaus is carrying. Those two items move the story along to the next plot point – Nerian.

Not all my outlines are this sparse. The outline for Book 3 and my side project are more detailed because the plot didn’t flow as easily as it did for Nightwalker and Dayhunter. I have also been known to add color coding so that certain things immediately jump out. I will frequently put everything in red text when it is a fight scene. That helps me keep an eye on things such as pacing and tension. If I don’t think Danaus is showing up enough in the book, I’ll color all of his scenes blue.

Do I veer from the main outline? Yes, but I never wander too far. The outline marks my main plot points that need to be covered. If I start wandering too far from my outline then it means that there is something wrong with my plotting and it’s time to go back to my outline to figure out what went wrong. However, very little of my subplots are actually on the outline. This is where my panzer style comes in. I rely on my knowledge of the characters to help me create the subplots as I’m working. At the moment, I’m in the middle of a pair of chapters that were not a part of the original outline. However, they a.) add to the tension, b.) add to the main plot, and c.) create a nice relationship building/destroying moment with three different characters within the story (subplot).

In summary, I think outlines help you stay on task, help get rid of the risk of writer’s block since you know what is supposed to happen next, and help you create more dynamic scenes. Keep in mind that you need to be efficient in your writing. Each of your scenes need to accomplish more than one thing. They are not there just to move the story along, but they should also develop characters, develop subplots, and expand your world building.

I hope this helps. If you’ve got something specific that you would like me to cover, please leave me a comment and I’ll try to cover it.


Chris said...

Thank you very much for sharing your outlining process. :)

Showing a sample from Nightwalker was very helpful for seeing how you work.

I've also come to the conclusion that what seems to work best for me is to focus on plot points. Scenes, too, but I'm not always sure when I outline which plot points go with which scenes. As I mentioned before, I'm currently working on my 2nd draft. The first draft was pure pantzer, so I outlined it after the fact, and now I'm rearranging/changing plot points and writing draft two. I had to give myself a rapid crash course in outlining, and your post is giving me confidence I'm on the right track.

I also liked your brief discussion near the end on what a scene should accomplish.

Thanks again :)

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