Here we at the ten-day marker for shopping days until Christmas. Do you have your shopping finished? Are you somebody who has beautifully wrapped gifts the bottom of your tree or are you somebody who is standing in line at the convenience store wondering if beef jerky is an appropriate gift for grandma? This is the time of year when the organized among us just sit back and laugh.
Christmas can creep up on you. Every year it seems like the minute I get last trick-or-treaters out the door, it’s just a hop, skip and jump to Christmas. Writing a novel can be the same way. This is where novelists often divide into two separate camps. The organizers versus the pantsers (as in writing by the seat of your pants) The organizers love to outline as they sit in their pristine little writing corners. They take time to write down every character, setting, plotline and subplot. They fill notebooks and computer files with all the stuff your English teacher was trying to instill in you. This method works and I’ll admit I’m an outliner, but my writing corner is not often pristine.
Some people hate to outline because it can put a cramp in the creative process. There are many famous writers who do not outline. F Arthur C. Clarke is an example and he seems to be doing pretty good with ol’ book sales. Still though, simply having a general idea of where your story is going to help you avoid that not limited that mid-novel slump that causes so many manuscripts to be put back in the drawer. Just like Christmas shopping if you had started your planning in January instead of Black Friday you might have a little less stress in your life. Also, just because you make an outline for a book doesn’t mean that you have to stick by it. In the past I always wrote an outline for my work-in-progress, but have changed that somewhat. I found that I would start out following each plot point closely and then the characters and the storyline would take me over. After awhile I would check my outline and it would be totally wrong, kind of like playing your favorite song on an out-of-tune guitar.
Now I sit down and write pre-synopsis even before I write the first word on page. It usually takes me between four to six pages to write the main plotline of a book. I put that into Scrivener and label it “Working Storyline.” I also write one for each subplot and then add it into the story as it fits. Once all of these writing paths are established I use my pre-synopsis and break it down into scenes (outline time) and then highlight part each part as I write through the scenes until I have the entire document blinding me in bright yellow. I don’t stick to it completely because that can mess up the flow of my creativity. I do try to stay as close to it as I can.
Just like Christmas shopping, planning the way you create your fictional worlds is up to you. It is also process that needs to change in order to evolve into a good story. My kids would ask for one toy when the obnoxious Christmas ads started in October and I would run out and buy it. By December they would want the toys in that month’s ads and I would be stuck with October’s toy. The answer to next your question is yes, my kids opened plenty of October toys on Christmas morning. Luckily in writing you can throw out October and always be able to afford to buy that brand new December idea. So the trick here is to think about ways that you can organize and plan ahead without stifling your creative process. You may be a detailed organizer or a pantser, but either way you do it -don’t stop! The bottom of your tree needs a gift or two.