So, I’m almost completely done with my second novel. This is the one I’m collaborating with Brandon Sanderson on. Working title: The Lurker.
I think I’ve smashed my face against, then managed to wrap my arms around, a writing principle worth sharing.
I started with a 10,000 word outline that Brandon wrote. We discussed the world and basic plot we would be working with for about four hours over two meetings before he wrote the outline.
I wrote my first novel with an outline too, a numbered list. I can’t speak for Brandon on The Lurker but for me, coming up with an outline was a very mechanical process.
Arbitrarily I aimed for 120,000 words which translated neatly into 30 4,000 word chapters. My outline had 30 chapters in it. Three viewpoint characters translated to 10 chapters each. Three try/fail cycles worked out to three chapters per cycle per character, which I dutifully labeled as such on my outline.
Then I filled in the basic events for each cycle. What, exactly, were my characters failing and then succeeding at? What did their mini-arcs consist of and how did they fit into the big book-arc? I already had a basic idea of what I wanted the book to be about and lots of cool scenes that had written themselves in my head and so forth. That made this process a mix of putting the pieces in their proper places and filling in the blanks.
The elephant tromped into the room when it came time to actually write the chapters so summarized on my outline. I stepped forward, hands outstretched, and started feeling that guy.
It was my book. I knew the basic shape. So there was no, ‘Oh, this is a snake…’ garbage. But it was definitely a process of discovery as I wrote each chapter. Some details (a lot of them really) made themselves known, either springing from my subconscious or becoming obvious due to context. Others, also a lot, I had to forge and hammer out in the creative fires. And it was all fun to do.
Later I realized that things were much easier for me if I also outlined each chapter before I actually started in on the actual prose. In most cases, what I ended up with was less an outline for each chapter than notes on my brainstorming session for the chapter, roughly chrono-organized. Once I knew where I was going to that level of detail, getting there was almost all fun. The niftiest things pop up out of nowhere.
The principle? Same as always. Just climb on and write.
My process is definitely more mechanical than a pure discovery writer, but less mechanical than some outliners. It’s mine, it works for me. It will probably change. And someday I fully expect to discover that it’s not an elephant at all but a bloody Tiger, and have to change everything.
Thus ends my very first POST ON WRITING.