Many who know me well are astounded that I didn't outline (i.e. plan every little detail of) my novel before I started writing it. They know who I am and what I do for a living. (For those of you who don't know what I do for a living, I write computer software for a Fortune 500 insurance company. My title is "Lead Applications Developer." Sounds impressive, huh? Yeah, thought so.)
Writing software was a dream of mine since my teens. I studied like you wouldn't believe and aced my major. I earned a degree in it. I practiced it. I read about it. I watched others do it. I worked for companies large and small as a self-employed consultant. I taught curriculum and continuing education classes on how to do it at the local community college. I tutored and mentored people on the subject. Then I got old, needed more stability and less travel, hence my current position for the past fifteen years.
Why the bio barrage? Because anyone who knows anything about computer programming knows that logic is paramount. I mean, you can't get much more logical than software development.
So these people who know me so well know how logical I am. They know how much I cherish structure, predictability, cause and effect, all those things that make me such an incredibly exciting person in the world of real. So why would I forsake everything I value and not use an outline when I write? Because my outlines look like this:
Gee, doesn't that look exciting? Bet you can't wait to split the cover off that book and read all about those points, right? Yeah, me neither.
To be fair, all those little points must happen in order for me to tell my story. Those are the crucial plot elements, the moments when characters grow and evolve. They are the events that drive the plot, the things that take the reader from one phase of the tale to the next. Without those little points, the climax is rather... anticlimactic. Unfortunately, if I write to my outline, the whole thing ends up anticlimactic.
I need a little excitement if I'm going to write an entire novel. So here's what I do. I find that logic switch in the back of my head and flip it. You know the one. Yeah, that one. I pull it hard and hold it there. It must remain firmly in the OFF position!
Then, I call my muse and hope she answers. (I'll tell you about her voice mail system in a future post.) I tell her, "Hey, I got this idea for a book! I've got all these little points mapped out in my mind. It's going to be great! I just know it!"
Then comes the part where she hesitates before asking, "Then why are you calling me, Jeff? Write it!"
"I can't," I tell her. "It's too dry. Got time to stop by and give me a hand?"
Fortunately, she usually does. She wants to know about Point A. I tell her about it. Then I start with Point B and she throws up a hand and shows me her palm. "Just A, Jeff. One step at a time." Then her face takes on that pondering expression that no one else in the universe has. And it begins.
The next thing I know, I have this really cool intro. Then a paragraph. By page four I notice that I'm suddenly coloring outside the lines. I peek at the outline, but she backs up to my desk and sits on it! I keep writing, making it up as I go. I glance again. She stands, stuffs it into her pocket and tells me to write. I do.
All this is to say that she only lets me see three points at a time: the current point, the next point and the last point. She doesn't care about the others. So, after she's visited a few times my outline mutates into something like this:
And it's great! So what if Point D became Point C½ and I threw Point E out the window? The new Point E was even better! Dialog took me there. New landscapes and cities took me there. New characters that only she knew about took me there. I discovered it as I wrote it.
But be clear on this: I never lost sight of the last point because that was the whole point of the story. Even she reminded me of that.
So now you know way too much about how my logical brain writes. And I don't think I could ever do it any other way.
So, how do you do it? I really do want to know!
P.S. I apologize if this post is a little longer than usual. Encapsulating it into a single post just seemed...yeah, logical.