|This comes from here|
Okay so you have this great idea and you've put it through its paces. Now what?
One thing I hear a lot is that people have great ideas then are totally daunted by the thought of writing them out. Hey, I panic before I write anything, I do. Writing can be intimidating (even when it's something you want to do) and the only way to get over that initial burst of panic is to write. A great way to start writing is to begin with an outline.
This outlining stuff is magic that can be adapted and applied to any kind of writing. When I write a research paper I do a thorough outline first and that outline is comprehensive and includes footnotes. When I write a long article, I outline with quotes and sources. When I write a novel I do anything from a detailed outline to a very loose action map because having a workable plan is like 80% of the work. Instead of going from page 1 to page 300 I only have to write from idea 1 to idea 2 to idea 3 etc.
Best of all, outlining gets the hard work out of the way so that I can enjoy the creative part of writing. I told my son that 80,000 words isn't that much to write because most of the words are and, but, to, the... etc. and you just have to pick the right ones to go in between. Outlining helps free up your mind so that you can pick the best words. Break it down into something that is doable. Like that joke about eating an elephant [how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time- I never said it was a *good* joke]. That's how you finish your novel, one word at a time.
Okay so you have this great idea and you have resisted the temptation to sit down and start writing until you run out of ideas. Good job! Now what?
Now, sit up straight and take a deep breath. You will probably feel a little pinch.
Either get out a notebook or warm up your PC (or Mac or whatever) and write an outline DON'T SHUT DOWN you knew this was coming, gimme a minute here. Just kind of write a list of things you want to happen in your book. It's cool- you don't have to do the letters and numbers and headings thing. Here's an example:
In which we meet the main characters through some kind of action.
Stuff heats up. Here is a good place for more action and maybe a little drama.
And we get a little foreshadowing here (you know I think this will end this way so let's see where it goes) This scene happens and it is a pivotal point in the storyline.
Here shit starts to go bad. details * I tend to sketch scenes that come to mind in these spaces. They're like little rest areas on the journey that is writing a novel*
And worse. Details.
Oh it's really super bad here.
And the sun rises and things start to work out
Oops maybe not
But here we go, it is resolving...
Oh no it's really bad now. Shoot, that didn't work
And now we resolve the story and... Boom. The book is done.
Okay that's just an example and, in terms of plot structure, not an ideal example. Again. it isn't a suggestion that you should write your book that way or lay out your outline that way or anything. YOU have to figure out what kind of map or outline works for you. Winging it works when you don't have any skill or knowledge and results, usually, in a hot mess that may take years to clean up. As you learn more about the process of writing and plot structure and all that happy horsecrap, a map of where you want the story to go is important. It helps keep you on track. If you start your first novel with a plan you may save yourself a great deal of time and thwart a good bit of frustration.
This outlining stuff isn't difficult because you do it while the idea is fresh in your mind. It's great actually; as you write the outline thingy these characters become more and more real and the really big scenes start to take shape. It's awesome.
And do you want to know the very best thing about this map? It is a fluid, constantly changing document. Maybe, while you're writing, a character takes on a little more depth than you had planned or you see a better way to move to your next bit of action. When this happens all you have to do it add it to the map and adjust future events accordingly. Keep referring to the map and changing it. In a way you are an explorer charting new territory. Here be dragons becomes, for instance, Florida which you can now map in detail and describe to your friends.
This map helps you after you're through writing the book too. If you are a super organized person you can write down the page number where certain scenes happen. This way, when you're editing and applying feedback to your editing process, you know exactly where to go. The editing phase of writing is one of deconstruction and your map kind of helps you to either take apart a section without creating further damage or serves as instruction on how to put it back together because ultimately editing results in reconstruction. Maps are very helpful here.
But, oh subtle one, this strips the art and creativity from the writing process.
Ah, grasshopper, you have much to learn. Writing is art but it is also a craft and craftspeople have to know how to make something work before they can learn how to make it pretty.
Books that don't work are no fun to read. They just aren't. The human mind craves structure and searches for patterns. If your book is all wibbly-wobbly the poor reader has to work so hard to make connections (patterns) that he is missing the 'art' altogether anyway. Your book is just an explosion of brown goo because nothing makes sense and the brain just mashes it all together into something it understands (every human knows what a pile of brown goo is and what to do with it).
So now you have an idea and hopefully you have some kind of a map. Next week we'll talk (I'll talk and either you'll listen or you won't) about the process of actually sitting your butt in the chair and writing your next book.
Have a terrific week, blogpeople.