Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Hybrid Approach to Outlining

Where do you get your ideas for your novels?  Do you outline your novels before you begin writing?  Do you have an ending in mind?  How do you maintain continuity as you write?  These are questions frequently asked of authors, and from what I’ve read, their answers vary.
For me, I start with a ‘premise’ for a novel.  It’s usually high level, more of a concept than a story.  As an example, in Better Late Than Ever, I was inspired by a bachelor friend who’d recently retired to a warm-weather, planned community.  I thought I’d add a 'fountain of youth' aspect to his retirement experiences and set the story a few years into the future to enable yet-to-be-discovered medical advancements to come into play.  That was it.  That’s all I had when I began.  I had similar detail when I began writing my other novels. 
My next step is to write the first chapter, or maybe a couple chapters, to introduce the characters and establish the setting for the story.  Getting 10 to 20 pages in print also gets the creative juices flowing. After this, I will start to build an outline of where the story will travel next.  My outline, which is really a collection of bullet points (or story developments) grouped into chapters, might be five or six chapters in length, or it might even stretch to the end of the book, but at this point, the outline is very malleable and in dire need of content.
As I write and flush out content, I continue to maintain the outline with each chapter getting better-defined bullet points.  Over time, the outline becomes a reference for keeping track of where characters, plot developments, and details are introduced and for maintaining continuity as I move forward. The outline is also useful in quickly reviewing each chapter and rating them for interest, suspense, or drama, and then going back and ‘beefing up’ the story where it’s needed.
My outline stays ahead of the novel, but evolves with it. By the time I’m finished, the outline has developed into a detailed summary of each chapter, with ten or more points each.   It’s a hybrid approach to writing, somewhere between those who outline their entire novel first and those who just sit down and write.  One approach focuses on structure and continuity, and the other optimizes free-flowing, creative thought.  I like to think my approach blends both, but in the end, it’s best to use whatever works best for you.

Don’t like my approach?  Here’s a look at the routines of famous authors.

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