Sunday, September 2, 2012

How To Do It

I've been thinking lately about the way I put my novels together. Mostly I've been thinking about it because I don't do it the way I've been told I should.

Where do I go?
For example. Many experts advise writers to create an outline before starting a novel. This way the writer creates a map of how to get from the beginning of the story to the end. Getting from A to Z is easier if you know all the way-points in between.

But what if you have no idea what Z looks like? Or worse, you don't even know where A is?

I usually begin with an idea, something simple. For example, Bear Medicine began with an image in my head of a woman who had suffered a terrible tragedy. I wondered how she could climb out of her despair and confusion and whether she would need to discover her own spirituality before she could be whole again.

I didn't know what the tragedy in her life was. I didn't know how she would discover a spiritual path or what the path would look like. I didn't even know if she would find happiness in the end or be defeated by the despair she began with.

I didn't know until I began to write.

And halfway through, I still didn't know where she would end up.

I'm like a mole burrowing in the dark, digging tunnels as he goes but never knowing where he'll end up when he runs out of burrowing room.

Once, several years ago, I decided I should probably create a novel the way the experts said it should be done. So I wrote an outline.

It took days. I felt uninspired.
What happened?

In the end I had twenty or so chapters with detailed bullet points describing what would happen. I had carefully constructed the track for my train to run on.

The story felt lifeless.

When I began to write, the story refused to follow the outline I'd so carefully prepared. The train jumped the track almost immediately.

The novel I'm working on now involves a pimp and a college girl who becomes entangled with him. I am getting close to the end. My college girl is in danger. She and her friends need to escape a situation that may result in injury or death.

Day before yesterday, I knew where they would go and what they would do to try to escape. Yesterday when I sat down to write, damned if one of my characters made a suggestion that never occurred to me. It was a much better idea than the one I'd come up with myself, so I let her have her way.

Yes. My characters talk about the story and how it should go. They don't talk to me so much. They talk to themselves and to each other. I seem to be around to carry out their wishes.

Does outlining work for you? It does for many writers. I just don't seem to be one of them!


  1. as usual your blog for this week is really interesting.I feel that I know you personally through your stories.Keep up the good work.

  2. So glad I'm not the only one with characters who call the shots. Its so much more productive and enjoyable as a written when you just let things happen. I always find myself eager to get back to the laptop to write, because I want to know what's going to happen next.

  3. A new follower from book blogs just as promised!! :D
    Thank you for following me..:)

  4. At last I have met a soul mate who writes like me! I find it almost impossible to map a story and, like you, the characters dictate the outcome anyway, so why bother. Sue Cross, author, Tea at Sam's