Okay, so you have the necessary ingredients and you’re ready to start. Where do you begin? There is no single answer to this question. Some writers
start with a vague idea while others have almost the entire novel planned in their heads. Either way, there are multiple ways to start depending on what works best for you.
Creating an Outline of Your Novel
Many books on writing, instructors, and successful writers like to outline their book before they start the writing process. An outline allows them to create the story before they have written
the first word, flesh out the plot, develop the characters, and make sure the story is compelling. The advantage of an outline is that you can construct the story before you take on the
time-consuming job of writing it. Problems are identified before you have spent any time writing and can easily be corrected. The outline can also be quickly tweaked to add a character,
increase the tension, or make a character more believable.
While outlines can be very helpful, don’t let them become the process. Many writers never get past the outline as they constantly tweak and rework their novel before they have even
begun. No matter how many times you look at an outline, you may not spot a problem until you start writing and become more familiar with the characters.
Some writers prefer a hybrid approach, writing a chapter or two to get the feel of the characters and the story and then outlining the rest before continuing with the writing.
As one writer says:
“I'll throw in a few feeble minded comments. I get an idea, and it burbles around in my head like a vat of magic potion being stirred by some beautiful, nekkid siren. And my discordant head
keeps adding ingredients until the vat boils over, and I have made up my mind that 'Yeah, this is a cool idea'! That excitement is what gets me convinced at some subconscious level that I can live
for the two months it will take to write this thing. I write the first chapter, and marvel at my cleverness.
Then, like an infant afraid of loud noises, and being alone; I write an outline. Just the words chapter 1 through chapter 30 on a blank page. I put at least one line of gibberish next to each
chapter, describing a scene and a purpose for its existence. I do this all the way to the end, and tinker with it for no more than a few hours, three at the most. Now I have my pacifier and can
shoot out of the gate knowing I have a beginning, a middle and an end. From this point on, all is lost.
I take a nap or go to sleep with the next chapter in my chaotic head. And I play it like a bad sci-fi movie behind my eyeballs before I pass out. When I wake up, I write the chapter. Two or three
hours. I don't second guess myself, that's my friends job on TNBW. Then it's on to the next.
By the eighth chapter, I throw away the outline, because I have picked up steam, and went off on some wild tangent I had never imagined when I put the outline down on paper. The book is alive, like
Frankenstein after a bolt of energy. It doesn't need me anymore, it has carved out its own little territory in my head and works its way out onto the page.”
Others, don’t outline at all:
I don't outline (except mentally, perhaps) but I take a lot of notes. A mini-recorder stashed in the glove box of my pick-up is handy because I get a lot of ideas while driving.
(Please drive defensively if you're in my neck of the woods) I have lousy writing habits - I either write or I don't, depending on what's bouncing around in my head and how many bills are
stacking up. I blew off a lot of work and went in debt to finish Addie Boyd. I wouldn't advise anyone to follow my path in that regard, but for me, finishing the book I set out to write
was the most important thing.
In the end, the decision to start the writing process by outlining or not outlining is up to you. Great books have been written with outlines and without. Stephen King eschews outlines
and allows the plot and characters to develop organically. Will this method work for you? That’s what you’ll discover as you begin to write.
The most important thing is that at some point you must begin to write. An outline is a tool so use it if it works, discard it if it doesn’t.
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