Monday, January 12, 2015
There's Nothing Standard About Outlining a Novel
Over the years, at book signings and special events, people have asked if I outline a novel before I begin writing. I don’t think I’ve given the same answer more than once. I think that’s worth a blog entry. Don’t you?
Here’s the deal: Do I prepare an extensive printed outline? No. Do I take a few notes? Sure. Do I know beforehand what every chapter is going to entail? No. Do I know how I want it to begin? Of course. Do I know what the mid-point, the pinnacle, the zenith, the most intense chapter, should generally be like? Sometimes. Do I know how I want it to end? Always.
Many years ago, an author at a writing seminar stood before the group and drew an arc on the blackboard. She X’d the beginning, the middle and the end. No surprise there. Right? She then drew a smaller arc starting near the base line of the mid-point of the larger arc, never going higher the main story arc but ending after the main plot had ended. This was my first visual representation of a sub-plot. There can be any number of these smaller story arcs intersecting at various points, as long as they never go higher than the main story arc. The smaller arcs should always, somehow, feed into and strengthen the main story arc yet retain a modicum of individuality. Done well, those sub-plots might turn into your next bestseller but still provide strength, believability and emotion to the story at hand.
This may be the long way around the issue, but this is the genesis of what I call an outline—the story arc(s).
The one aspect I pay most attention to in the conceptualization process is character development. Every day we all see many personality types and how each reacts to other various personalities. I’ll say no more about this other than to add if you’re not sure, then you’re not very observant of people. Now, I work at giving every main character a backstory, an extensive one. This provides me with the personality I’m searching for. We are all molded by our environments and lifelong associations.
Once I have the personalities fixed and the backstories in place then the characters tell me how the novel should go. I don’t need to insert my influence whatsoever. I just need to be able to type fast enough to keep up with them as they show me where the story goes. Sometimes it’s an exhausting, sweaty experience just trying to stay up them.
If you haven’t yet read the suspense/thriller “Phobia”, I invite you to do so in paperback, Kindle or Nook formats.