I started a new project today: Outlining my book.
“But Anne,” you say, “isn’t that something you’re supposed to do before you write a book?”
Yes, dear Readers. Many authors do outline their novels before they type so much as a title page, and for lots of people, this is a wonderful method of completing a first draft quickly.
Every time I have attempted to outline a plot, I spend hours and hours working out every little detail and making sure I know exactly who my characters are and what they are going to do… and then, somewhere in the middle of Chapter 2, my boat gets totally rocked. Sometimes, it gets capsized. How, you ask?
Because, as any true writer will tell you, characters are unpredictable entities. You never know what they’re going to do. Take, for example, Natalie Watson. She’s my protagonist in The Clearing, and for most of the book, she’s incredibly mild mannered, nerdy, shy, etc. but then as I was writing her, all of a sudden she let this guy have it. I mean, she lit into him, and it totally came out of nowhere. I was shocked, Natalie was shocked, the guy was shocked… and Natalie has never been the same since.
Did I plan for her to lose her temper like that? Definitely not. Do I like what it’s done to her as a character? Oooooh yeah.
Sometimes, characters I didn’t even know existed will pop into my story completely unbidden, and will throw everything for a loop. I don’t plan them, I never see them coming, but then suddenly, there they are, adding their own unique little twist to the story. And so I have to write them in, and by the end of it I’ve wadded up my carefully thought-out plot outline and started to just wing it.
This can make for some seriously awesome plot development; however, it can also put you right in the middle of the very hole I’ve dug for myself.
Due to my lack of outline, and given the point I’m at in the editing process, I’m having a lot of trouble remembering where I gave a certain piece of information, what color this character’s eyes are, whether or not I remembered to replace a block of text I cut… you get the picture. I can’t remember what I’ve told the reader and what I haven’t. I don’t know if I’ve contradicted anything or if I’ve explained everything correctly.
Thus, the long overdue outline has come back to bite me.
Tonight I went through my first three chapters and made lists, chapter by chapter, of all the important elements that are revealed in that chapter. I’m also noting how and when I describe my characters, because I can see them in my head, but the reader can’t. I’m making notes about things the reader learns about each character – their little quirks, nuggets of information about their pasts, etc.
And you know what I’m wishing?
I’m wishing I would have done this as I wrote. Clearly, the pre-emptive outline doesn’t work for me, but what about outlining as I write? Why didn’t I ever try that?
So I guess what I’m saying here is that if you’re writing a book, try to keep track of all the little pieces of information you give your reader, and keep up with where you say it. Doing this will make your life a lot easier once you start going back for Round 34 of editing and you can’t even look at your manuscript one more time, much less actually read through it to find where you said something.
And to my NaNo peeps: Did you finish??