Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Today I’m going to talk about craft, specifically the first part in a series on how to write a novel.

A common rookie mistake is to just “start writing and see where it goes” I myself am guilty of this novice move, as are probably every other author you’ve ever read. (If you haven't read any of my books yet, maybe start?). It’s a common misconception, but you will invariably end up writing yourself into a corner, or just loosing the plot all together.

Most of us, when we sit down to write, at least have an idea of where the story is going. You have a destination in mind, but are unsure about exactly how to get there, so you just start writing and hope to find your way.

This is guaranteed recipe to get yourself lost.

The journey is important, but trying to make it in this manner will fail. You may actually succeed in writing a novel, but probably not a good one. Maybe if you are working full-time on the project, with nothing to distract you, this approach can work, but since most of us are writing from in our spare time, we need to plan.

Having nurtured a lot of young writers over the years, I know most of my readers will cringe when I say this next word, so I’m going to get it out of the way as quickly as possible: outline. Go ahead, cringe a bit, you know you want to.

Ok, cringe-time is over.

Much like building a structure requires blueprints, writing a novel requires planning. A blueprint can be as simple as a few lines scratched onto a page. An outline can be as uncomplicated as a short list of the events of the story in the order they are meant to appear. Even if you haven’t figured everything out yet, just dump what you have onto the page, and fill in the blanks with “Stuff happens here.” Having that simple list can make the whole process so much less painful. And, most importantly: easier to come back to.

We all shelve projects occasionally. I, for one, am typically working on 3 or 4 different books and up to a dozen short stories at any given time. Not all at once, mind you, but I will constantly have a wide range of projects going, and switch between them on a daily, or even hourly basis. By producing simple outlines for each project, I can come back to it, months, or even years down the road. Author of the Gust spent 2 years on the proverbial shelf, half finished, but I was easily able to come back to it because I had a good outline.

And just because you create an outline does not make it carved in stone. It’s just a set of suggestions, a few notes about what should happen in the story. Deviate from it all you like, your wrote it. I often look back at some of my outlines and laugh at how different they are than the final story.

Outlining is just one part of planning; next, we’ll tackle character creation.

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