Sunday, July 31, 2005

Working toward the new novel

Aletta from Kat Among the Pigeons

Kat Among the Pigeons is about ¾'s of the way toward ready to write. I'm really pleased with how well the material is going together for this one and excited about the story. I like the characters, the setting (Rocky Mountains, and areas I've been to several times over the years!) and the plot. The head of the 'bad guys' is really turning out to be fascinating, and the woman on his side just made an appearance for me and I have a good idea of her attitude and feelings.

I've written about 10k in notes and collected almost twice as much in information from the Internet. I need to sort through my own pictures still, and I fear that I'm not going to get a chance to do that before I start writing. I could put off the start and spend time sorting through boxes of pictures, but somehow that doesn't seem like such a good idea.

I not only know about the 'real world' things, but I also know motivations, weaknesses, plans and the way in which it all falls together. I could probably start writing today, but I'm going to hold off for a while longer so I can get a few other things out of the way and then have a straight run at it. And I want to work on the outline, which is still nebulous. Well, all right, less than nebulous. I have a 'start here' and 'finish here' sort of layout with two minor scenes written out in the middle.

Many people don't like outlines. I worked for years without them, but I learned that I do much better at keeping the story in line and making it readable and interesting if I have a good 'roadmap' of where I want it to go. Letting the characters wander all over and do what ever happens to come to mind that day was always fun, but it also made vast tracks of boring story line that went no where and didn't help the novel move forward.

My later novels don't suffer much from that problem, though there are still times when I write in scenes that I think are essential only to realize on the read through that I can cut some big (and usually dull) scene and summarize it better.

Many writers don't need outlines. They have the ability to plot and keep the story on line without directions. Many new writers working on their first novels don't think they need to outline when they really should have a roadmap, or at least a few cue cards, to keep them heading in the right direction. It's easy to get lost out there, especially if you make the mistake of believing that your characters are talking to you and telling you what needs to be done. Your imagination is a wild, untamed power and it's job is, in many ways, to lead you astray. Your imagination leaps from what you are working on to 'imagine' something different, and if you trust it without question -- and without any controls -- it's going to move off into directions that can sometimes ruin the story because there is no logical way back and no logical end. So the writer gets there, sees no way out, and abandons the novel.

The important thing to remember is that every great idea does not have to go into THIS book. Even if you imagine it with the current set of characters, chances are that you can adapt it to a different story later. Just make a note of it somewhere (I keep notebooks and files just for this purpose) and go back to keeping your characters moving along the plot line you want to tell.

It's hard to see that some ideas are not good to throw in while you're writing without an outline, though, because every idea seems a logical outgrowth of what you've already done. And since you have no idea where you want the story to go, there's no reason not to move off into another direction. I've worked that way and sometimes you get really great material. Other times you end up out in the Mojave Desert without a trail when you thought you were heading for Key West. The only way to get there is to retrace your steps, cut the material that took you off into an area from which there is no storyline resolution, and cut it out of the manuscript.

A shame about all that wasted time, of course.... (And I've done enough of it to know!)

Outlines won't automatically make a novel perfect. I've certainly written plenty of bad novels both ways. It won't even guarantee that you'll get through the novel without problems. I just look at it as a little extra insurance.

Some people are not going to do well with outlines at all. But if you're like me, and your imagination likes to run rampant at the worst times, having a sheet of paper with a few lines of directions on it is not going to hurt.


Jean said...

Thanks for sharing you haven't always worked with outlines. I have suspected for some time that I will need to be more outline-driven in preparation for the time when I have deadlines to meet.

At first, I wasn't sure how. I'm beginning to think it may be a learned thing that gets easier with time. Of course, an outline can be very sketchy or very detailed. So one person's outline might seem either too sparse to too much like the book is already written to another person.

Linda Adams said...

I'm one of those people who can't work with the rigid structure of outlines. It makes me shudder when I think about writing scenes on index cards or whatnot. I originally did outlines because everyone said I should, and they only served to frustrate me. I always felt like I was trying to fit into something that simply didn't fit. I finally figured out it's because I'm a character-driven writer, not a event-driven writer. Outlines tend to be event-driven devices, which is why I never felt like they fit me.

Melly said...

Another very helpful post. Thanks.
I find that even if I don't have an outline, at the very least I have to know the direction -- end if you will -- of the novel. Otherwise I get sidetracked and never finish it.

Valerie Comer said...

Thanks for the great post, Zette. A few novels' worth of trial and error should help a writer figure out what their optimum strategy is. I've gone from no outline to mega outline (thanks to the 2yn!) and am finding my comfort zone in the middle somewhere, leaning more on the outline side. You never know until you try.

Hope Kat goes well for you. You've had a ton of fun planning it out, for sure!

Carter said...

I got over my fear of outlines once I realized that I wrote the blame thing, and I can change it anytime I want to. Then things got easier. My current strategy is to keep a line-per-scene in a separate file so I can see where I'm heading. If something happens that requires changes in upcoming scenes, it's no problems to change them.

Great picture of Aletta. Haunting eyes.

Jean said...

For now, I'm comfortable with the 5-10 page thing, but I won't know if I can write from it until NaNo. So far, I've started one book per year with NaNoWriMo. Starting them and finishing the first draft, with or without outline, seems to work fine. I'm struggling getting something marketable out of the revisions. That will come. (Yes, it will, dammit.)