Last week, I wrote about the writing bug that bit me. Now, I’ve decided to write a novel. And it was in no small part due to the overwhelming response I got from readers and fellow bloggers who share my passion. So thank you.
Over the next year or so, I plan to have a series of posts chronicling my journey of actually getting a drafted manuscript. I’ll call it “Writing My Novel,” and while it may not be regular, it will certainly be honest and candid. This is the first installment because I’ve already hit that first sticky place in writing a novel:
I have two early drafts for novels sitting at ~10k words. Both are concepts I love. One is a mainstream horror novel with religious undertones, and the other is my take on Young Adult SF–think space opera with high fantasy conventions.
My wife and I have now both read through them and we solidly agreed that the YA SF had much more potential (as well as being just more interesting).
So now, I have the beginnings of a story sitting in Google Docs, a few ideas rolling around in my head of where I want the story to go, and no idea exactly what comes next. Diving in and just writing is my usual style, but this time, it does not feel just right.
This time, I definitely want to outline.
Here’s the thing: I’ve never outlined before. Never. Not fiction, at least. I’ve mapped essays, sure, but fiction has always been a seat-of-my-pants thrill ride where I got to see what came next as the characters did. There was no rhyme or reason, but it was organic and fun.
And it never once left me with an even close to complete manuscript. I would always get that block about “what comes next?” and sit and think for a while and lose interest and go do something else that required less work.
So this time, I am certain I need the discipline that comes from writing an outline.
And it’s hard.
Sitting down with my handy-dandy Moleskine notebook and staging scene after scene is a daunting task. But it’s not daunting in that I’m scared of plotting out 50-100k words; it’s scary in that I am afraid I’m writing too much for the outline. I’m afraid that I’m trying to micromanage too much, and I’m not letting the characters actually come alive.
Typically, I look at outlining as a skeleton of ideas: single sentence topics with single sentence bullet points supporting it. Not a lot of details, but the basic frame of the story is there to keep me on track for when I lose my way. Extraneous details have no place.
But that’s not working for my fiction this time.
I find myself writing full paragraphs about these characters and what they’re doing. I’m going into detail about what the characters are talking about, even if it’s not a dialogue-heavy scene. I am writing out detailed plot notes rather than outlining, and I worry about that a little.
I honestly think that worry is unfounded, but still I worry because of the amount of time it is taking to write that much out. That much time could be spent writing and revising the actual manuscript rather than an outline/notes.
I’ve heard advice on both sides of the fence, but what I get most is “do what works.” But since I do not know what works, I have to go with what feels right. By the end of the book, I might have filled the entire second half of my notebook with notes, but at least they’re there, and I never lost an idea because “it was too detailed to bother with.”
This time, I’m going with detailed notes as my plot outline, I think. Since I’m working with a newfound desire to “do it right,” I might as well move away from the tried-and-not-so-true methods that failed me in the past.
I mean, just planning ahead is a step in the right direction for me as far as taking this seriously goes. I usually sit down with a few good ideas and once I’ve used them up, I peter out. This time I’m doing it right. I’m treating this like the job it is and not going in half-cocked. When I get out of the planning stage, I’ll be fully ready because–for once–I will know exactly where I am going when I start writing.
So what about you guys and gals? How many of you write from an outline or notes? And who out there is a seat-of-the-pantser like I typically am? Why do you find that way works best for you?