Thursday, October 18, 2007


I'm still reading (on and off, mostly at red lights during my commute) No Plot? No Problem! in preparation for NaNoWriMo. Today I read this line: "It may be counterintuitive, but when it comes to novel writing, more preparation does not necessarily produce a better book."

Now that I have permission to skimp on my character development (pre-novel, at least), I'm all set to start the fun of outlining. I'm not being sarcastic, honestly. I love outlining. It means I'm about finished with the musing and turning-it-over-in-my-mind phase and I'm about to start the actual writing. And the very start of writing a new novel is like the early stages of a white-hot (won't-last) love affair.

I don't know anyone else who outlines like I do. I mean, I haven't actually taken a poll or anything. Maybe everyone outlines like me.

I rough out my book chapter by chapter, briefly. I give each chapter a title--just for my use; I don't typically title chapters in the finished book--and underneath each title I jot three or four phrases. And that's my outline.

Here's an example from my last year's NaNo book, Stag in Velvet (gosh, I like that title). Here's the first chapter of my outline (scribbled in a spiral notebook):

1. Breaking up is hard to do
painful separation--once bitten--we should be dancing

And that's it. In this case, I used song titles because the book opens with the main character having just broken up with his girlfriend. That's the chapter title. The girlfriend happens to be a werepanther, though, and the break-up was clinched by the girlfriend slashing the main character across the chest with her claws after an argument. That's the first phrase. In this world there are vampires, but they're not spooky or undead or Anne Ricey, they're fairly common and treat the whole blood-drinking thing in a practical manner (and it helps that they eat food too, and don't need blood often); the main character's brother is bitten by a vampire in the first chapter, which sets up an issue with vampires that comes in later in the book. That's the second phrase, obviously. As for the last phrase, the chapter ends with the main character's family learning a dance that their entire clan is going to perform for the king at his jubilee in the second chapter.

So rather than write all that out, I just wrote down 14 words and that's my outline for chapter one.

Of course, I'd worked out a lot of the details mentally ahead of time, so (for instance) I knew I was going to have the dance and the vampire bite and so forth in chapter one. But I didn't have all the details worked out, which means that some of the later chapters have very vague phrases that may or may not get used if I ever finish this poor book. For instance again:

8. Ruined beauty
Death of a prince--a matter of politics--treachery

I have only the vaguest idea of what's going on here. I know that a cousin of the heir apparent will die, and I think the politics thing has to do with the king's courtship of the heir apparent's sister (I should hastily explain that the main character has traveled with his king to a neighboring country, and the king is courting a princess of that country). I don't know whose treachery I've indicated, but I'm sure once I get to that point I'll have a better idea. These are just landmarks on the novel's road, after all, not hard-and-fast directions.

Oh, and I change the outline as I go along. This one has a lot of scratch-outs and arrows moving phrases to different chapters and carats adding new phrases. I've put the phrase "shopping with Sitilka" in three different chapters and I think I'm going to end up moving it again. Despite the prosaic sound, it's actually a very important scene. It would take too long to explain why; fortunately I only need to write "shopping with Sitilka" to remind myself of all the details I've worked out ahead of time.

Okay, now I have to go do some writing.

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