Tuesday, June 14, 2011

To Outline or Not to Outline

There is definitely a very good argument for creating an outline as you prepare to write a new book if you are writing nonfiction. The argument is less convincing for general fiction, and I do not like to outline in writing a mystery novel. I do make plenty of notes on a yellow legal pad with some guesses about where the plot might be going, and then I put that pad away and never look at it again until the book has been completed. The essence of a mystery novel is investigation. If you have an outline, you already know the results of that investigation. I prefer to write a mystery from the inside out. I ride along with my characters and witness each step of the investigation along with them. The nature of your characters, the amount of information they have, and the situation in which they find themselves tell you what the logical next step in the investigation is going to be. Different characters logically explore aspects of the problem that are appropriate for them, and they learn from each other when they compare notes. Each status comparison builds a new platform for the next steps in the investigation. I never know the outcome in advance. I learn along with my characters, and I find many surprises as the process leads to an outcome.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Beginning / Middle / End / Beginning

Most coherent stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. As with a speech, you don't want to start communicating without having some idea where you are going. Good fiction will tend to have a beginning, a middle, an end, and then it will double back to the beginning to be sure that the opening questions have been answered by the end of the book. It isn't always necessary to tie down every loose end, especially if you want to leave the reader with open-ended questions rather than answers, but wrapping things up neatly yields reader satisfaction and is a sign of good writing craftsmanship. However, if you are writing a series of novels, you may want to use the technique of ending each volume with a dilemma or stimulus that will entice the reader to crave the next volume.