Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Plan for Outlining Your Novel

There are as many ways to write a novel as there are people who want to write them. I am currently at work on my sixth novel, a tale of suspense, and I am writing it the same way I've written all the others. I sit down and write it. As painful as this is, and it is painful at times, it's the only way to get the job done. Because, as every aspiring novelist can tell you, it's tempting to go to conferences (to talk about writing with other writers), to take online courses (to talk about writing with other writers), to blog (to tell people who visit about writing), and even to hang out at your local Starbucks (to tell your neighbors all about writing and how tough it is).

The only solution is sit in the chair and write.

This leads, for me, to a lot of extra work. My first drafts run to 500-plus words. I cut many of them, and wind up writing new scenes, different scenes, scenes that tell the story better than the ones I labored over.

It's time for a change.

I recently received excellent advice about a new approach, devised by Al Zuckerman (The Writers House). In his book, Writing the Blockbuster Novel, he recommends beginning with an outline of 15-20 pages. This is the place to work out all the major plot points, nail down character descriptions and set out the conflict that will carry the story from start to finish. A good solid outline gives the writer a sense of exactly where the story is going and when.

That's the theory. The challenge, for writers like me, is to think it through before starting to write that first draft. I don't seem to be able to nail down the next scene or chapter until I've finished writing the one that comes before it. Which is tough, because in real terms this means your first draft is nothing more than a 500-plus page outline.

Talk about killing your darlings. With a first draft of that size, you practically become a mass murderer.

And so this 'pantser' (a term I learned in Romance Writers of America that refers to those of us who plot our novels as we write them) is about to change her ways and start plotting advance. I'm hoping to learn how to nail down the fine points of a story I haven't written yet (gulp) and gain a clear vision for my next book before I start writing.

I'll let you know how it goes.

No comments:

Post a Comment