Or Why I’m Crazy.
I outline. I know it’s possible to write a novel without one – I’ve done it, and it wasn’t a complete disaster, just a little like wandering through downtown LA trying to find due north: every street looked like completely new territory disguising itself as old familiar territory, and while I had no idea where I was going to end up, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t look anything like anything I’d seen yet. Sword was a no-outline novel when I finished it the first time, mostly because I’d never written a novel before, and I thought writing one would be just like writing a really, really long story for a creative fiction class.
Yes, feel free to laugh. I am. Really. It’s funny now, though I still wince when I think about it.
The first serious revision of Sword – that I outlined. After I got over the oh-god-I’m-brilliant-look-what-I-wrote phase of Finishing Your First Novel, I re-read it and realized that while there was a coherent plot hiding in the 140,000 (!!!) words I’d managed to put down, not only was it buried in a thicket of adjectives the likes of which I hope never to see again, but the beautiful, sweeping arc of my beautiful, sweeping plot looked quite a bit like a very ambitious doodle.
So I outlined after the fact, and once I’d drawn a semi-straight line through my pretty little Celtic knot of themes and events I realized I had about 20,000 unnecessary words in there, hiding in utterly irrelevant scenes nobody but me would find interesting, witty dialogue not in any way connected to anything, and secondary characters that served no purpose at all. In a word, ow. After my agent had read it for the first time and sent revision suggestions, it got another 20K shorter and a lot straighter, and now I can read it without feeling like I got stuck on a rotary with a faulty GPS suckered onto my windshield and telling me the nearest Starbucks is in the cow pasture to my left.
So when I started Song, I outlined like a crazy person. And discovered I like having a map. I deviate – hell, I doubt I could stop myself if I tried, which I don’t, because when my characters wander off-message I usually get the best scenes out of them – and I constantly tweak, but having a set of directions, however vague (and I have learned to keep an outline vague and spare myself revising that, too), keeps me relatively on track when I get stuck. I know what needs to happen, I just need to figure out how to get everyone there without losing limbs.
This doesn’t mean it’s fun to outline, though. And so here I sit, staring at several back-jacket-worthy paragraphs that will, one fine day, become a bulleted list, and then, if I’m feeling extremely geekish, possibly a chart in Excel.
Yes, I’m crazy. I’m still going to do this.
I sense a very antisocial weekend coming up here.