Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday Wonderings - Outlining - Friend or Foe?

As I’ve said before, all writers do things different. Some like to plan each chapter with excruciating detail, some write blind. Some do intricate character developments, others get to know them as they go. Sometimes, writers just write and don’t give a thought to anything but the words flowing out of them.

But, there is one topic that seems to raise more than a few heads in the writing world.

Outlining – friend or foe?

I did NaNoWriMo last year (2010) and for the first time, I did proper, real, honest-to-goodness outlining. I hardly ever do that. In the run up to November, I started to freak myself out a bit. What if I hit a wall? What if I couldn’t think where to go next? What if my character turned out to be a douche and therefore wasn’t leading man material?

So I planned. And planned, and planned, and planned. And it was like pulling teeth writing that book.

Usually I’m laid back when it comes to preparing. A fresh idea will develop in my mind. It will normally come from part of a dream, or just a random thought that floated into my scary mind one afternoon. More often than not, I’m working on something else when the idea arrives. This gives the idea time to grow and evolve in my mind before I do anything serious with it.

Okay. Other project is finished. Now it’s time for Shiny New Idea. I write a brief (and by brief, I mean like one or two pages tops of an A5 notebook – sometimes just a paragraph) outline of the story. For example, for my second book, Sex, Lies & Vegas, this is what I wrote:

Start with Vegas as back drop – group of girls unwinding, having dinner. One meets guy, bumps into him at a club later – leads to hotel nookie. Both go separate ways – meet in NYC. Vegas guy is best friend of girl’s fiancé.

And that was it. Seriously. That was the backbone for my book. Oh, all this happens within the first 70 pages and it’s only the beginning for what happened with the characters. But it was all I needed. Think of it as the foundation for a house. Or as I like to think of it, the skeleton for the body of my book.

Once I have the bare outline, I tend to daydream a lot, and this is where I do most of my planning. I think about exciting scenes and scribble notes on them when they are more fully formed.

For character development I sit down and write about them. What they like, what their interests are and what impact they have on the story. If they are being slippery customers and I can’t get a handle on them, I write a scene from their point of view. Trust me, nothing helps more than this.

So that’s it for my planning skills.

How about you? I love hearing about how other writers operate. Let me know!


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